Mayor directs additional actions to address fentanyl crisis

Attention focused downtown in response to alarming increase in overdoses

February 20, 2024 - by Janice Keller, Interim Deputy Administrator/Communications Director

Bellingham Mayor Kim Lund announced an Executive Order today, February 20, 2024, compelling her administration to take immediate additional actions to address the fentanyl crisis, especially focusing on the safety and well-being of downtown.

Responding to an alarming increase in overdoses in the first weeks of this year, immediate actions Mayor Lund directed include increasing emergency medical services and police patrols downtown, establishing a hub for first responders downtown, prioritizing enforcement of laws prohibiting the sale and distribution of illegal drugs, helping expand access to treatment options in high overdose areas, increasing cleaning and sanitation services, and expanding other operations downtown to enhance safety and disrupt drug-related criminal activity.

The full list of Mayor Lund’s actions is contained in Executive Order 2024-01, announced at a small gathering of City officials and downtown stakeholders near the Commercial Street Parking Garage, where the hub for first responders will open in a vacant City space this week.

Other actions included in the Executive Order include increasing public education about the fentanyl crisis, pursuing county, state and federal financial resources, and preparing comprehensive downtown strategies to meet short and long-term needs. This executive order is a directive to staff, not an emergency declaration, made within the Mayor’s existing budget and executive authority.

“My order today is just the beginning of this work,” Mayor Lund said. “The actions announced are steps the City is taking immediately, within my existing budget and executive authority. Taking these actions feels hopeful. They are first steps as we work together—creating and fostering an increased environment of safety, economic vitality, and sense of community downtown.”

Data shows alarming increases in overdoses

“I was hearing qualitative reports from our first responders that the impacts from fentanyl in our downtown seemed to be getting worse. This inspired us to look closely at the data from 2023 and emerging trends for 2024. This quantitative look substantiated our collective experiences, and we knew we had to take urgent action,” Mayor Lund said.

She said the fentanyl crisis data continues to be alarming, with the first weeks of 2024 showing continued increases in overdoses, particularly downtown. Last year was the worst year for overdoses in our community, with significant increases over 2022 in calls for first responder services. If the trends of the first weeks of 2024 continue, this year will significantly outpace last year’s devastating impacts. For example:

  • Bellingham Fire/EMS responded to 537 overdose-related incidents in 2022 and 898 in 2023.  In 2024, they responded to 104 overdose-related incidents in January alone, putting us on track to exceed 1,200 overdose responses this year if this pace continues. Of the 104 Fire/EMS responses in January, 30 were downtown.
  • In January 2024, What-Comm 911 dispatch experienced double the number of calls regarding suspected overdoses within the City limits, when compared to January 2023, with 37 in January 2023 and 75 in January 2024. The downtown area has seen a 375 percent increase in 911 calls reporting suspected overdoses when compared to January 2023, with 8 in January 2023 and 38 in January 2024.

Overdose deaths in Whatcom County have markedly increased every year since 2018, with a 49.5 percent increase reported in 2023 when compared to 2022, according to data presented at, a product of the Whatcom County Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group. Drug overdose deaths are increasing state and nationwide, with substance use disorders now a leading cause of preventable deaths in our country.

The work initiated by Mayor Lund’s Executive Order complements efforts underway by Whatcom County officials, the Lummi Nation and other area tribes, and other government and non-profit partners.

Mayor inspired to action by first-hand experiences

The statistics tell an important part of the story and Mayor Lund’s personal experiences help inform the rest.

“In the six weeks since I became Mayor, I’ve been on the scene for four overdose responses. I’m grateful for our first responders who were able to save each of these lives and that they did not become overdose death statistics,” she said. “What stays with me when I reflect on these experiences is the rippling impacts across Bellingham. The trauma ripples first on the people we’ve saved, and onto the community members witnessing these incidents in public spaces, the employees of businesses who often provide immediate care before first responders arrive, and the large number of City public safety personnel required to save those lives. In total, the impacts on, and costs to, our community are enormous.”

Addressing needs downtown a priority

Mayor Lund said addressing needs downtown is a top priority for her as Mayor, emphasizing that “downtown is the beating heart of Bellingham.”

“Downtowns define cities. When you think of great cities, you think of their downtowns. Many people are working very hard to support and improve Bellingham’s downtown and there are a lot of good and exciting things happening that we are eager to build upon with this Executive Order. We don’t want the fentanyl crisis and its effects to define our downtown and our wonderful community,” she said.

The City, with our partners, will identify a comprehensive set of strategies, Lund said, continuing a focus on safety and well-being while also looking toward the future in supporting business and economic development, promoting arts and culture, encouraging new housing, and envisioning other ways to promote community solutions that enliven downtown.

“The actions in this Executive Order are just the beginning, a first few urgent steps along a continuum of actions to realize a downtown Bellingham that is vibrant, thriving, welcoming and safe for everyone.”

Mayor Kim Lund announces an Executive Order addressing the fentanyl crisis downtown. From left: Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Hewett; Lindsey Payne Johnstone, Interim Executive Director, Downtown Bellingham Partnership; Guy Occhiogrosso, President/CEO, Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce; Bellingam Mayor Kim Lund, Bellingham Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig.

Media Contact

Janice Keller
Interim Deputy Administrator/Communications Director or (360) 778-8115

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