EVERETT — Some people who are booked into the Snohomish County Jail fidget and shake as they’re patted down.
They scream and cry while the nursing staff try to calm them down and ask questions.
“What drugs did you take today?”
This week, different agencies around the county have been counting the number of opioid overdoses. They also opened their doors to share largely unseen stories. The program was introduced last year and is organized by the Snohomish Health District to better understand what is widely described as an opioid crisis. It’s called a point-in-time count, and is similar to the county’s annual survey of the homeless population. Findings are expected to be released July 25.
Last year, three people died among the 37 who overdosed in the week-long tally.
Julie Farris started working at the jail in 2005. At the time many people would come in with alcohol withdrawals.
“Most of our alcoholics have died, and now their children and grandchildren are doing heroin,” she said. “The addiction legacy continues, but the form is a little bit different now.”
About 35 percent of people brought to the jail have opiates in their system, according to the county sheriff’s office. The Snohomish County Jail was among the first in the state to give inmates medication such as Suboxone, a drug that eases withdrawal symptoms, some that can be severe and life-threatening. The program started in January. More people detox there than any other place in the county.
Each person who’s taken to the jail provides a urine sample to tell which drugs they’ve taken. The test also lets many of the women know for the first time that they’re pregnant. About 90 percent of women who are found to be pregnant also have opiates in their system.
Cravings usually last for about five months after a person gets clean, Farris said.
Farris has a hard time talking about what it is that motives her at work each day. Not because she doesn’t have an answer, but because it’s tough answering through tears.
“Life motivates me,” she said. “Youth motivates me, and that’s what heroin is taking away. … Heroin is taking away our children, and if we lose our children, what future do we have?”
Providence Regional Medical Center Everett reported 17 people younger than 21 were treated for overdoses there between June 2017 and May 2018.
Eric Korsmeyer is a registered nurse in the hospital’s emergency department. Part of his job is to track everyone who comes in for an opiate overdose. He records the drugs they took and where they overdosed. He turns that into the Snohomish Health District.
Korsmeyer sees up to seven people who survive overdoses each week. When someone overdoses, they might only draw a breath two times per minute. They could turn blue.
Some who overdose end up with a breathing tube, while others could walk out within 10 minutes, he said. Korsmeyer offers resources to each patient.
“Unfortunately, some of the people who come to the ER aren’t necessarily interested in getting off of opiates,” he said. “We’re kind of fortunate we can catch people at a vulnerable time … but it’s not for sure they’ll want help.”
He sees people overdose who were addicts in the past, and were sober for a while. They relapse and think they can handle the same dose as before. But they can’t, because they don’t have a tolerance built up.
Most pharmacies sell it over the counter, for about $60 to $150 per two doses, she said. Doctors can give prescriptions if someone is taking an opiate home, too.
“You can’t hurt anybody by administering Narcan,” Thomas said. “If you’re not sure if it’s an overdose and you’re at home before first responders, you can give it to them.”
The antidote can bring someone out of an overdose, but Narcan sometimes wears off before the opiate. A second overdose can be fought with another dose of the medication. State law protects those who help from getting in trouble.
People who don’t get help in time end up at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office in south Everett.
So far this year, there have been 49 confirmed overdose deaths in the county, and 27 bodies pending toxicology reports. Last year, there were 129, the highest number in four years.
Investigators from the medical examiner’s office are called to playgrounds and sober houses, mansions and homeless camps. Often times they have to get through a maze of orange-capped syringes on the floor.
Back at the lab, staff must be mindful of hidden needles in people’s pockets.
Even when there has clearly been an overdose, it’s not always easy to tell which drug caused it. People often die with more than one substance in their system.
It’s hard to track the real number of people who are victims of drug use, said Heather Oie, the medical examiner’s operations manager. One example she gave was of people who die in car crashes by impaired drivers.
“It’s a whole segment of the population that isn’t counted in the overdose numbers,” she said.
Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @stephrdavey.