Cities along U.S. 2 to discuss drug problem

Because illegal drugs are taking a toll on communities along U.S. 2, Sno-Isle Libraries has come up with series aimed at fighting the problem.

It has organized two upcoming panels with local experts to take a closer look at substance abuse.

The problems related to drug use in east Snohomish County first came to the library district’s attention in May when two young men overdosed within two weeks after using a synthetic marijuana known as “spice” behind the Sultan Library. The two teens survived but experienced side effects after smoking the drug.

“They were suffering hallucinations, vomiting and seizures,” said Sultan Library Manager Jackie Personeus. “When those incidents happened it really heightened awareness.”

Some types of spice are illegal. Others are sold legally in minimarts and tobacco stores.

“Because it’s a substance that’s largely unknown, it raises a lot of questions,” Personeus said. “It’s a real problem for communities to struggle with.”

Although she hadn’t heard of spice before the two emergencies near the library, Personeus said, she was aware that drug abuse is an issue in Sultan and elsewhere.

“Working every day, I do see some of the effects,” she said. “It’s really on the minds of our community members.”

Although the situation in Sultan sparked the conversation for Sno-Isle, spokeswoman Julie Titone said, librarians from other branches saw heroin as a bigger problem in their communities. The panel was then expanded to include information on other types of substance abuse issues.

“It’s really hitting home for people,” Titone said.

Detective David Chitwood of the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is scheduled to speak at both events.

“The heroin epidemic is getting so big that all of the communities are finding it a problem,” he said.

Snohomish, for example, has seen an increase in retail thefts, Chitwood said. He believes people who are addicted to drugs are stealing to support their habit.

Chitwood said methamphetamine use is also increasing in the area.

Officers from the Snohomish Police Department made 45 drug arrests so far this year. It has received 246 complaints related to suspected substance use.

The Monroe Police Department counts 51 drug arrests so far in 2014. Another 34 people have been arrested this year for illicit substances by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in the east precinct, which includes Sultan and Gold Bar. The numbers do not include arrests made by other agencies.

“We have to have options for these people,” Chitwood said. “We can only take so many to jail.”

He expects the library discussion to aid people in connecting with social services and law enforcement resources that can help with drug problems.

Bart Wheaton, a drug counselor at Catholic Community Services and Cocoon House, is scheduled to join Chitwood on both panels.

Chitwood plans to share information on the warning signs of addiction, different types of substance abuse and solutions to issues that come with drug use. The two free panels are part of Sno-Isle Libraries’ “Issues That Matter” programs, which are designed to encourage conversations on important topics.

The first discussion is set to take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Snohomish Library. The Monroe Library has scheduled the second panel for 7 p.m. on Aug. 14. It includes Kerry Boone, of the Monroe Community Coalition, and Scott Kornish, of the Monroe Police Department.

“People who are concerned will learn more about how they can help,” Personeus said.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports

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