Fentanyl deaths in Renton on the rise since 2019

So far this year, 22 individuals have died as a result of fentanyl overdoses.

As of May this year, 175 individuals have died as a result of fentanyl overdoses in Renton since 2019.

According to data provided to the Renton Police Department from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, the number of fentanyl overdose deaths in Renton has risen year-to-year since 2019.

In 2019, 22 individuals died as a result of fentanyl overdoses in Renton. That number jumped to 40 overdose deaths in 2020 and 44 overdose deaths in 2021. In 2022, the number of fentanyl overdose deaths peaked at 47.

As of May 5, 22 individuals have died as a result of fentanyl overdoses.

“We’re on track to break … 47 (deaths) because we’re not even halfway through the year,” said Christian Mercardo of the Renton Police Department’s Special Enforcement Unit.

Mercardo serves as one of two designated narcotics detectives in the unit, tasked with investigating narcotics crimes including manufactured delivery, possession, controlled substance homicides and overdoses.

At the time he joined the Special Enforcement Unit in 2017, Mercardo said fentanyl “wasn’t that prominent.”

Between 2017 and 2023, fentanyl’s prevalence increased exponentially, Mercardo said.

“It wasn’t just like one massive wave (that) hit. It was a gradual thing where just a few people here and there got introduced to it, and then it just spread like a wildfire.”

Mercardo said the department typically sees fentanyl in powder and pressed pill forms that mimic pharmaceutical pills like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

The number of organizations trafficking in fentanyl in Renton is unknown, Mercardo said.

“There’s no way to tell because they do a really good job of hiding within communities,” Mercardo said.

Narcotic arrests have declined following the Blake decision in February of 2021 in Washington State Supreme Court that declared the state’s main drug possession statute unconstitutional and void, according to Mercado. The decision limited the department’s arrests to possession with intent to distribute — numbers that have remained stable through the Blake decision, Mercado said.

Mercardo said an increase in open-air drug use downtown followed the Blake decision.

The Renton City Council on May 22 unanimously passed a revised version of a policy prohibiting public drug use just a week after it was first introduced, the Renton Reporter previously reported.