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Increasing Fentanyl Overdoses in King County Jail as Inmates Sneak in Supply


“I’ve seen both pills and powder coming through,” Dennis Folk tells me.

Folk is sounding the alarm that fentanyl is increasingly making its way into the King County jail and inmates are overdosing at a staggering rate. He is the president of the King County Corrections Guild, representing men and women who are trying to stop the flow of this lethal drug into the facility.

“It was heroine years ago, now it’s fentanyl,” he tells me.

Seattle Fire and medics respond to each overdose and administer Narcan.

KYI Radio’s Ari Hoffman and I have been looking into this concerning trend. We’ve been told that there have been at least eight fentanyl overdoses in the jail since the end of May. The most recent occurred on Tuesday.

Although all inmates are scanned by security, the illicit drug is still getting in.

“Somebody got arrested, maybe their charge didn’t require a strip search. Or there have been cases where they swallowed it or maybe put it somewhere else,” Folk says.

According to Folk, some inmates leave the facility for medical appointments and manage to obtain fentanyl in that time.

“I just don’t know what the easy stop is,” he tells me. “I think our staff are doing the best job they can.” It doesn’t help that the facility is down more than 100 corrections officers, and most of the staff are “doing two to three times their normal workload.”

The situation poses a risk not only to inmates but also to the staff. Folk says several corrections officers have complained of headaches and nausea following exposure to fentanyl smoke.

“Maybe getting something on your clothes and take that home to your family,” he describes, “that’s something where I wouldn’t want to bear that responsibility.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine’s spokesperson says they’re not commenting on what is being done to improve facility security and prevent more overdoses. 

Folk says jail administrators are trying to increase their supplies of Narcan, the medicine that is primarily used to reverse opioid overdoses. But until officials take action, the overdoses will continue.  

“They’re developing a policy right now where we’ll start carrying Narcan on us,” he says. 

Meanwhile, King County isn’t the only correctional facility impacted by the fentanyl crisis. Just a month ago, seven inmates overdosed in the Snohomish County jail. And earlier this year, six inmates overdosed on fentanyl in the Thurston County jail. 

“You know these guys are doing the crimes to feed their addictions,” Folk tells me, “and I would say for a good 85 to 90 percent of them, it’s fentanyl.” 

Jonathan Choe

Journalist and Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Jonathan Choe is a journalist and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, covering homelessness issues for its Fix Homelessness initiative. Prior to joining Discovery, Choe spent several years as one of the lead reporters at KOMO-TV, consistently the top rated television station in Seattle. His in depth stories on crime and deep dive investigations into the homeless crisis led to measurable results in the community, including changes in public policy. Choe has more than two decades of experience in television news behind the scenes and in front of the camera for ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and Tribune. He has also been nominated and honored with multiple industry awards including an Emmy. Choe spent several years teaching classes on emerging media and entrepreneurship to under privileged youth in inner city Chicago. As an independent journalist, Choe also contributes regularly to the Mill Creek View and Lynnwood Times and has reported on exclusive stories in the past year for Daily Wire and The Postmillennial.