New Cross System Data Analysis on Overdose Deaths in King County

DCHS Data Insights Series 
DCHS is excited to release the second analysis as part of the “DCHS Data Insights” series, highlighting how DCHS data directly informs programs, client outcomes, and the core components of some of our region’s most pressing issues.  
Nationally, the country is seeing a dramatic rise in overdose deaths due to opioids and stimulants. This trend is echoed locally, with King County experiencing a similar increase. King County set a record in 2021 for total drug and alcohol overdose deaths. 

In a new analysis led by Carolina Johnson, Ph.D., we look at 1,114 overdose deaths between January 2019 and May 2021. After integrating data across local service systems like hospital emergency departments, behavioral health providers and jails, this analysis finds that fewer than half (48%) of people who had contact with local service systems and who experienced a fatal overdose in King County (Jan 2019 – May 2021) had received substance use disorder (SUD) services in the year before their overdose. 

The integrated report shows us which systems people access before a fatal overdose and can inform efforts to increase access to substance use disorder services that could reduce future deaths.  


Notably, people who experienced a fatal overdose were engaged in a wide variety of system contact, and most were not receiving services from SUD treatment programs in the year prior to their fatal overdose. No single public service reaches everyone. This analysis reinforces the idea that overdose prevention resources and referrals to SUD treatment should be made available in many different settings, including emergency departments, mental health providers, and jails. 

This initial analysis provides evidence for improving overdose prevention connections and SUD treatment activities across different points in our service system. Further in-depth analysis and collaboration will help to identify targeted areas of opportunity along the continuum of care to increase client engagement and improve overdose prevention interventions in medical, jail and mental health settings.   

Public Health—Seattle & King County continues to address the opioid epidemic and is working with partners to prevent overdoses, increase access to treatment, and provide harm reduction services to reduce the health impacts for people with substance use disorder. 

The Behavioral Health and Recovery Division (BHRD) offers a number of strategies to prevent overdose, including the distribution of Naloxone to the general public and for community partners through the DCHS Naloxone Portal, and promotion of information and awareness through initiatives like Laced and Lethal. DCHS works with more than 40 behavioral health treatment provider agencies, including 33 low-barrier opioid medication programs and 12 same-day walk-in clinics. BHRD continues to look for new opportunities to lower barriers to treatment and improve access. 

For a more detailed information on the methodology and results of this analysis, please see the full report here