SEATTLE — Since the start of 2023, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office says 35 people have died from fentanyl-related overdoses.
Prosecutors say they are working to hold drug dealers accountable. In the last five months of 2022, 67 fentanyl dealing charges were filed.
When narcotics cases used to come across Joseph Marchesano's desk, he says it would be a fairly even mix involving methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.
"But now, if there's a drug delivery case or an overdose case, it's a good guess that it's fentanyl,” said Marchesano, a King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor. "Each week that we get those numbers from the medical examiner's office, it just seems like it's getting higher and higher."
In King County, data shows fentanyl-related overdoses almost doubling from one year to the next. In 2020, 173 people died, and the following year, the number of deaths increased to 385. In 2022, there were 685 fentanyl-related overdoses in King County.
The increase in overdoses has also led to an increase in case referrals. According to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's office, late last year, a large drug trafficking organization was busted with 68,000 fentanyl pills and more than four pounds of fentanyl powder. In September, Seattle police recovered a long list of items from a Ballard home, including 14 firearms, $44,000 and more than 1,300 grams of fentanyl. Then in December, another case took more than 4,000 grams of fentanyl off the street. Marchesano says that’s critical when you consider the consequences.
"The victim has no idea of knowing which pill could be a fatal pill,” he said.
When there is an overdose death, a specific crime that prosecutors can charge is called controlled substances homicide.
"Essentially what we need to do is prove that a drug dealer gave drugs to a victim and that victim ended up passing away because of those drugs,” said Marchesano.
Marchesano says recently, they have only had one case charged as controlled substances homicide. There have been cases where the charge has been reduced to drug delivery.