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The hard work to track and confront the opioid crisis in Pierce County.

Mikaela Lawes interned at the Health Department as part of her college sociology program. She graduated from Washington State University this summer.  

Her insights into substance use disorder are telling. Like Mikaela says, the people who experience substance use disorder are “your neighbors, family and friends.” 

We hope the work we do can go a long way toward saving their lives. This Thursday, we’re holding an event at noon at Fircrest Community Center in honor of International Overdose Awareness Day. That makes it a good time to look at the opioid epidemic and our work to confront it in Pierce County.

Tracking the opioid crisis in Pierce County.

One step we’re taking is the introduction of our opioid dashboard. Starting today, you’ll see data tracking the opioid crisis in Pierce County at

Opioid-related overdose is the most common cause of accidental death here, outnumbering motor-vehicle collisions and firearm deaths.  We started with two metrics tracking fentanyl-related deaths and we’ll add lots more data in the months ahead. 

A chart showing fentanyl deaths by age group in Pierce County

The view from the frontlines. 

Below is Mikaela’s telling of what she saw in her time with us. We hope you find it an important glimpse into substance use disorder, and the work we do. 


As a student intern, I learned a lot about issues that affect people with substance use disorder. Here are some of those thoughts. 

Substance misuse is complex. 

Often, people misuse substances because they want to change something. Maybe they want to treat physical or mental pain.  Things like racial inequities and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic can also contribute to substance misuse.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports drug overdose deaths in the U.S. top 100,000 annually. That’s a 28.5% increase from the same period the year before. 

People who experience substance use disorder and drug poisonings are your neighbors, family and friends. They deserve good health. And we want to help.

Opioid Task Force: Help for people with substance use disorder.

We partner with Pierce County, City of Tacoma and Elevate Health to lead the Opioid Task Force (OTF), a regional response to the crisis. 

OTF promotes positive behavioral health and well-being. It works to reduce opioid misuse and related stigma through systems change and community engagement. Members gather in subcommittee to address opioid misuse priorities:

  • Access to Treatment—Encourage providers to prescribe suboxone.
  • Right Services, Right Time—Develop a clear intake tool for first responders.
  • Steering Committee—Education for children and youth.

Save a Life. Carry Naloxone.

If you or people around you use opioids, always carry naloxone. We offer free kits at our office. Naloxone (Narcan) is an easy-to-administer nasal spray.

Our staff provides a short training to help you prepare for an emergency. You’ll know how to stop the effects of an opioid overdose and save a life. You don’t need ID or documentation. 

Questions? Contact Kayla Luke at or (253) 649-1603.

Need fentanyl test strips and other harm reduction services? Call the Tacoma Needle Exchange at (253) 377-4032.

Right services. Right time.

For many people with substance use disorder, medication-assisted treatment is the best path to recovery.  But often, they face barriers to entry.

Our Meds First program eliminates the barriers that wait times or extensive onboarding processes present. Those who are ready can get immediate help when they need it.

The program opens the door to recovery for those who are ready, at precisely the moment they are ready.

Get involved.

Communities play a vital role in promoting good behavioral health. You can respond to the opioid crisis:

Join the Opioid Task Force. Contact Chelsea Amato at

Volunteer. We offer internship and volunteer opportunities. Interested? Contact Kae Kamiya at

If you or someone around you needs immediate help, contact the 24-hour Crisis Line at (866) 427-4747. Learn about more treatment options at Washington Recovery Helpline or call (866) 789-1511.