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Opioids

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Local leaders across Washington have launched legal campaigns against companies that make and distribute opioid painkillers, saying false advertising is partially to blame for widespread addiction. 

But for one of the counties hit hardest by the crisis, the decision to sue is a matter of debate and a question of resources. 

Ariel Van Cleave / KNKX

Ten years ago, Snohomish County was overwhelmed by an influx of black-market prescription opioids. Law enforcement reacted by arresting people and running them through the courts, but it wasn't enough.

Property crime was still high, jails were filling up and the scourge of addiction showed no signs of slowing down as people switched from pills to heroin. Leaders realized they needed to make a radical change and focus instead on prevention.

Medical marijuana appears to have put a dent in the opioid abuse epidemic, according to two studies published Monday.

The research suggests that some people turn to marijuana as a way to treat their pain, and by so doing, avoid more dangerous addictive drugs. The findings are the latest to lend support to the idea that some people are willing to substitute marijuana for opioids and other prescription drugs.

Shari Ireton / Snohomish County Sheriff's Department

Leaders in Snohomish County are expanding their approach to combating the opioid crisis by opening a new diversion center this month. It's a pilot program meant to temporarily house nonviolent, low-level offenders with behavioral health and substance abuse issues.

Shari Ireton / Snohomish County Sheriff's Department

If you live in Snohomish County, you've likely seen the effects of what many call the opioid epidemic for about ten years. 

Property crime has gone up, many people are living on the streets, the courts and jail are clogged, and more people than ever are dying of overdoses.

The usual approach to a crisis like this one would be to arrest, lock up and release. But that wasn't making much of a difference.

In a refrigerator in the coroner's office in Marion County, Ind., rows of vials await testing. They contain blood, urine and vitreous, the fluid collected from inside a human eye.

In overdose cases, the fluids may contain clues for investigators.

"We send that off to a toxicology lab to be tested for what we call drugs of abuse," said Alfie Ballew, deputy coroner. The results often include drugs such as cocaine, heroin, fentanyl or prescription pharmaceuticals.

Darryl Dyck / AP Photo/The Canadian Press

Pierce County leaders took a first step Monday toward banning safe-injection sites in unincorporated parts of the county. 

A committee of the County Council voted 2-1 to send the proposal to the full council, where members could take a final vote as early as May. 

Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press via AP

 


 

Snohomish County leaders have permanently banned heroin "safe-injection" sites. The county council held a public hearing Wednesday to discuss the measure, and the overwhelming majority agreed with the ban.

 

Amidst Opioid Crisis, A Search For Alternatives

Feb 27, 2018

At a medical clinic in Seattle, Dr. Heather Tick takes a thin acupuncture needle and inserts it into Hannah Lilly’s neck.

“How are you through there?” Dr Tick asks Lilly.

“Not great,” Lilly replies.

Will James / KNKX

Paramedics in Tacoma are giving out plastic bags full of lifesaving nasal spray to people who survive overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids. 

Gabriel Spitzer

You could make a pretty good case that the epicenter of the opioid crisis in all of North America is British Columbia.

 

Just five years ago overdose deaths there had been holding steady at under 300 a year -- about the same as car crashes. Then it spiked -- last year 1,422 people in British Columbia died of a drug overdose.

 

Charles Krupa / AP Photo

 

Most people who use heroin as their main drug want to reduce their use, or completely stop, according to a new report released by the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. It also shows methamphetamine use is on the rise throughout the state.

The opioid crisis is front and center at the Washington Legislature this week. On Monday, lawmakers heard testimony on three bills aimed at preventing and treating opioid addiction and reducing overdose deaths.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants state lawmakers to declare the opioid epidemic a public health crisis.

On average, two people die each day in Washington from opioid overdoses. That includes deaths from prescription and synthetic opioids, as well as heroin.

Top Philadelphia officials are advocating that the city become the first in the U.S. to open a supervised injection site, where people suffering from heroin or opioid addiction could use the drugs under medical supervision.

But the controversial proposal aimed at addressing the city's deadly drug crisis must first overcome resistance from top city police officials, community residents and the federal government.

"Mt. Rainier from Orting, WA" by Lana_aka_BADGRL is licensed under CC by 2.0 http://bit.ly/2Bslcqu

The nation's opioid addiction epidemic is a challenge for small, rural communities, where the fatal impacts can overwhelm local resources and treatment may be lacking. 

Toby Talbot / Associated Press

Those trying to tackle the opioid crisis say solving it will take more than money and government help. It will take a change in attitude. 

Lauren Davis, with Washington Recovery Alliance, says the stigma attached to addiction makes it less likely that people will seek treatment.

It has the power to save lives by targeting opioid overdoses — something that kills more than 140 Americans every day. And now Narcan, the nasal spray that can pull a drug user back from an overdose, is being carried by all of Walgreens' more than 8,000 pharmacies.

Updated at 2:50 p.m. ET

President Trump declared a public health emergency to deal with the opioid epidemic Thursday, freeing up some resources for treatment. More than 140 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We are currently dealing with the worst drug crisis in American history," Trump said, adding, "it's just been so long in the making. Addressing it will require all of our effort."

"We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic," he said.

Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press via AP

A King County judge has voided a ballot measure that would have banned safe injection sites for drug users.

Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea Galvan ruled Monday that Initiative 27 extends beyond the scope of the initiative power. She ordered that it not be placed on the February ballot.

Ashley Gross / KNKX

The legal troubles facing makers of prescription painkillers continue to grow as the City of Seattle and Washington state have each filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, arguing the companies downplayed risks of the drugs and deceptively marketed them to boost profits.

Vincent Milum Jr., Tacoma Fire Department / Flickr

Tacoma is suing Purdue Pharma and two other companies, Endo and Janssen, that make prescription opioids.

In its lawsuit, Tacoma says it’s had to bear the financial costs of the opioid crisis in many ways – in terms of fire and police response to overdoses as well as paying for the prescription drugs for employees who get health insurance from the city.

Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press via AP

The fight over safe drug-injection sites is underway in King County.

Earlier this year, county leaders moved to open two of them as part of a larger plan to deal with the opioid crisis.

Opioid abuse is a crisis, but is it an emergency?

That's the question gripping Washington after President Trump's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended that the president declare the epidemic a national emergency.

Toby Talbot / AP Photo

Tacoma’s City Attorney’s Office is exploring ways to hold the makers of opioid painkillers accountable for the city’s growing homelessness crisis.

The city is gathering information from law enforcement and other city officials to determine whether to move forward with a lawsuit against drug manufacturers.

Last January, the city of Everett filed a lawsuit against Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, alleging the company knowingly allowed pills to be funneled to the black market.

An advisory panel convened by the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate the health risks of the powerful opioid painkiller Opana ER says that the danger it poses as a drug of abuse outweighs its benefits as a prescription painkiller.

The time-release opioid was reformulated in 2012 to make it harder to crush. The goal was to reduce abuse by snorting it. But users quickly figured out that the new formulation could be dissolved and injected.

As the toll of the opioid epidemic grows, scores of doctors have lost their licenses and some have gone to prison. Pharmacies are being sued and shuttered. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are under investigation and face new rules from regulators.

But penalties against companies that serve as middlemen between drug companies and pharmacies have been relatively scarce — until recently.

It took a lot of convincing to get John Evard into rehab. He was reluctant to give up the medications that he was certain were keeping his pain at bay. But ultimately he agreed — and seven days into his stay at the Las Vegas Recovery Center, the nausea and aching muscles of opioid withdrawal are finally beginning to fade.

"Any sweats?" a nurse asks him as she adjusts his blood pressure cuff.

"Last night it was really bad," he tells her, "but not since I got up." Evard, who is 70, says he woke up several times in the night, his sheets drenched with sweat.

On the final day of June 2015, Colin LePage rode waves of hope and despair. It started when LePage found his 30-year-old son, Chris, at home after an apparent overdose. Paramedics rushed Chris by helicopter to one of Boston's flagship medical centers.

Doctors revived Chris' heart, but struggled to stabilize his temperature and blood pressure. At some point, a doctor or nurse mentioned to LePage that his son had agreed to be an organ donor.

"There was no urgency or, 'Hey, you need to do this.' I could see genuine concern and sadness." LePage says, his voice quavering.

Toby Talbot / Associated Press

The word epidemic is often used when discussing opioid use in King County. In fact, a task force was formed earlier this year to come up with recommendations addressing the issue. Those suggestions are being released this month. But ahead of that report, 88.5’s Ariel Van Cleave sat down with senior researcher Caleb Banta-Green at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Institute to ask if we’re talking about drugs, drug use and treatment in the right ways.

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