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Seattle morgue struggles to store bodies amid fentanyl overdose surge

In 2023, King County recorded over 1,100 deaths due to opioid and stimulant overdoses. Out of those deaths, 1,073 were due to fentanyl.
Fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills.
Posted at 5:31 PM, Feb 01, 2024

The fentanyl overdose crisis in Seattle has reached a point where one of the city's morgues is facing a shortage of space for dead bodies.

In the first month of this year, 58 people in King County died from opioid and stimulant overdoses, according to the Medical Examiner's Office. And now, Dr. Faisal Khan, the director of public health for Seattle and King County, is sounding the alarm that the county's morgue is running out of space.

“The Medical Examiner’s Office is now struggling with the issue of storing bodies because the fentanyl-related death toll continues to climb. Obviously, they have finite space in the coolers they use, and that space is now being exceeded on a regular basis,” said Khan during a King County Board of Health meeting.

In 2023, the county recorded over 1,100 deaths due to opioid and stimulant overdoses, marking the highest number of overdose deaths they have ever recorded. Out of those deaths, 1,073 were due to fentanyl. 

“The rise in fentanyl nationally and locally over the past few years has led to a much more dangerous drug supply,” said Khan. “Fentanyl has increased the risk of overdose and death, even from taking one pill or using a small amount of powder. It is now involved in 70% of King County overdose deaths, as of December 2022.”

From January to December of last year, the county's emergency medical service attended to more than 8,400 opioid overdoses, according to medical examiners' data.