TULALIP — Two-time Olympic athlete Jarred Rome died of a fentanyl overdose, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Wednesday.
Rome was a hometown hero to Marysville for his discus-throwing prowess and humble spirit. He’d been inducted into the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame the week he died in September in Tulalip at age 42.
How the drug got into his system is unknown. His mother, Jane Blackwell, said she does not believe he took the drug intentionally. She suspects someone gave him something to treat a pain in his arm that day.
Rome represented the United States at the Olympics in 2004 and 2012, and he won a silver medal at the Pan American Games in 2011. On Sept. 18, two days after his local hall-of-fame induction, he went out with friends to the Tulalip Resort Casino. He wasn’t feeling well, his sister, Monica Rome, told The Daily Herald.
So Rome returned to his hotel room. People checked on Rome through the night. He was found unresponsive in the room early Sept. 21.
The cause of death was acute fentanyl intoxication, according to the medical examiner’s office. The report also cited a heart ailment as a “significant condition contributing to” Rome’s death.
Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid far more powerful than heroin, has been linked to a national spike in fatal overdoses. Tests showed Rome had no other drug in his bloodstream that could have contributed to his death. The death is considered an accident.
The full toxicology report has not been made public. It’s unclear how Rome acquired fentanyl, or in what form he consumed the drug. Locally, street drug dealers have trafficked in pills that appear to be Percocet but are really fentanyl. In serious cases, fentanyl can be prescribed and worn in a patch. The medical examiner’s office did not say if Rome had a prescription. Tulalip tribal police did not immediately respond to a Herald reporter’s inquiry Wednesday.
Around the end of July, Rome suffered a collapsed lung, his mother said. He woke up one morning, couldn’t breathe and went to the hospital, she said. He’d also been diagnosed with Lyme disease and dilated cardiomyopathy — an enlarged left ventricle. He was ill for hours in the hotel room.
Rome worked out every day and took meticulous care of his body, which he knew well.
“Jarred wouldn’t even eat flour,” Blackwell said. “He wouldn’t eat sugar at Christmas.”
Many local kids knew him through throwing clinics. Hundreds of athletes, including fellow Olympians and students he coached, attended his memorial.
Rome was a large man. He stood 6-foot-4 and weighed over 300 pounds. He is one of the most decorated athletes in Snohomish County history. The 1995 graduate of Marysville Pilchuck High School was a three-sport star in his prep days as a member of the Tomahawks’ football, basketball and track and field teams. It was in the throwing events where he excelled most. He went on to become a six-time track and field All-American at Boise State University in the discus and shot put.
The Olympian directed the Ironwood Thrower Development Camp in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and he was a track and field assistant coach at Boston University. He moved to the East Coast in the summer of 2018, living in Sudbury, Massachusetts, with his wife, Pam Spuehler, a decorated field hockey player and senior national women’s team member in the early 2010s.
A memorial fund has raised $22,000 to benefit the throwing camp.
In the acceptance speech just before his death, Rome recounted how he pushed past failures to reach the pinnacle of his sport. His mother encouraged him to stick with the sport in 2003, when he was ready to quit. In the years that followed, he went on to throw around the globe and to set personal bests.
“I was never the top thrower in high school, I was never the top thrower in college,” he said at the recent hall of fame induction. “I considered myself to be the hardest worker. I never had the talent, I frankly never believed I could make the national team, that was never a goal of mine. The support I had shows tonight from the family and friends who are here, without your support I would never be here.”
More about fentanyl
In the pharmaceutical world, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used to treat severe pain. It can be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The drug was developed for pain management in cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin.
Most fentanyl-related harm, overdose and deaths in the U.S. are linked to an illegally made version of the substance, according to the CDC. Illicit fentanyl is sold for its heroin-like effect.
Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl – which often results in overdose deaths, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Illicitly made fentanyl use is on the rise.
According to data from the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, confiscations of fentanyl increased by nearly seven-fold from 2012 to 2014. This suggests the increase in fentanyl-related deaths may be due to increased availability of the illegally made drug.
Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids increased almost 47% from 2016 to 2017, according to the CDC. About 28,400 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids in 2017.
Julia-Grace Sanders contributed to this story.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; email@example.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.