Lummi Tribal Health Center warns community of ‘a significant increase in overdoses’

A Whatcom Medic One ambulance returns to Bellingham Fire Department Station 1 in September 2016.
A Whatcom Medic One ambulance returns to Bellingham Fire Department Station 1 in September 2016. The Bellingham Herald file

The Lummi Tribal Health Center issued a drug overdose warning via its Facebook page last week after a pregnant Lummi woman died from a heroin overdose.

“Beware, potentially contaminated drugs are circulating in our area,” the alert read. “We have experienced a significant increase in overdoses with the last 24 hours.”

Since March 1, the Bellingham Fire Department has responded to five reported overdoses on the Lummi peninsula, Assistant Chief Bill Hewett told The Bellingham Herald Tuesday.

St. Joseph hospital spokesperson Hilary Andrade told The Bellingham Herald that the emergency department has not seen a substantial increase in the number of overdose cases it has received recently.

Whatcom County Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Goldfogel said he was aware of the health center’s release.

“I do not believe there is a particularly bad strain of heroin in the community. .... There was a tragic death of a pregnant Lummi woman in her early 20s from a heroin overdose that precipitated the warning,” Dr. Goldfogel told The Herald. “There is no harm in reminding people just how dangerous opiate addition really is.”

The Lummi Health Center’s alert advised those who do use drugs to watch out for each other, suggesting:

“When possible, don’t use alone.”

“If you use alone, plan to have someone check on you.”

“Stagger use with friends so someone can always respond if needed.”

“Test using small amount to evaluate tolerance, especially if you haven’t used in a few days.”

In the event of an overdose, the alert recommended calling 911 immediately, administering rescue breaths and giving Narcan when available. Narcan is available Monday through Friday during normal business hours at the Lummi Tribal Health Center and between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays at Lummi Counseling Services.

“We believe educating our patients and families who are struggling on ways to reduce the health risks of drug use will prevent future overdoses and other serious health consequences such as HIV, Hepatitis C, bloodstream infections and skin infections,” Lummi Tribal Health said in a follow-up post on Monday. “We believe this is a compassionate model of healthcare that faces the realities and risks of substance use in an honest and open way.”

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.