Skip to content

Inside Olympia—WA State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah

It started in the east and migrated west. Compared to previous drugs, it’s extremely potent and extremely dangerous. A couple of years ago, 5 people a day were dying from fentanyl in Washington state; today it’s 7 per day. And you better talk with your kids about it. Those messages and more from Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah and Sue Birch, director of the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA), two state agencies collaboratively involved in fentanyl/synthetic opioid prevention, education and treatment.


Education, according to Shah and Birch, involves not only educating school students and the public, but the medical community. The biggest challenge to effective treatment that is readily available across Washington? While shortage of treatment space is a factor, workforce shortages are an even bigger challenge. Birch discusses the HCA’s program that trains former addicts to become treatment peers and providers.


Plus, a one-on-one conversation with Dr. Shah. We debrief on the COVID pandemic, talk about lessons learned, and whether our state and nation are now better equipped to combat a future pandemic.


Other topics discussed: the huge turnover in public health professionals, driven partly by COVID; investing in public health proactively, before emergencies, rather than reacting to them; the transfer of diseases between animals and people; with disease knowing no borders, the importance of coordination among health jurisdictions; the give priorities of the state’s “Transformational Plan” for health; and the U.S. Surgeon General’s upcoming visit to Washington.