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Inside Olympia – Opioid Crisis; WA’s Economy and Revenues

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On the final episode before our July/August hiatus, host Austin Jenkins discusses the opioid/fentanyl crisis with Dr. Charissa Fotinos, State Medicaid Director/Health Care Authority Behavioral Health Medical Director. Plus, the state of the state economy, the impacts of inflation, the possibility of a recession, and the latest state revenue forecast, with WA Chief Economist Steve Lerch.

Drug overdoses are now the number one cause of death in Washington for people 45 and under. In 2021, more than 2,000 Washingtonians died of a drug overdose. Over a recent two year period, opioid overdose deaths per capita nearly doubled in Washington.

One reason behind those stats is fentanyl. Dr. Fotinos explains the drug is very effective medically as a pain killer, for instance after surgery. It’s also incredibly potent, 50-100 times more potent than morphine. Thus it is much more likely than many other drugs to kill even a first-time user.

Dr. Fotinos goes in depth on what the state is doing to address the state’s opioid crisis, including a focus on harm reduction, and the state’s capacity to bring help to addicts.

Washington Chief Economist Steve Lerch, who directs the WA Economic and Revenue Forecast Council (ERFC), recently released the quarterly state revenue forecast, which lets legislative budget writers how much money is available to spend on state services, like schools and social services.

The June revenue forecast was once again positive, with the state’s approximately $60-billion budget up by another $1.5 billion. But, there are looming concerns about a recession. The ERFC puts chances of a recession at 35%, with a 50% chance that growth will simply slow, without a recession.

The recession concern is being fueled in large part by high inflation – which, paradoxically, is also a major driver behind higher state revenue collections, since the sales tax collected by the state increases when product costs are higher.

Lerch says one thing seems certain: revenue growth at the state level will slow in the coming months. The next state revenue forecast is scheduled for mid-September.

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