EVERETT — A son growing up in a home with two drug-addicted parents.
A mom whose 24-year-old son died from a heroin overdose.
An elementary school principal who sees the effects of kids growing up in a home shattered by drug use.
And a mom who told of the pain of having her children temporarily removed from her home while she was using drugs.
These were some of the stories describing the growing toll of opiate abuse that were shared with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray on Thursday during an event in Everett.
Snohomish County has been hit hard by the problem. In one week in July, there were 37 overdoses, including three deaths.
In the first nine months of last year, 54 people died from overdoses, according to Snohomish Health District data.
“Anybody who thinks it’s not in my town is not listening,” Murray said.
Sabian Hart spent part of his childhood in Everett and now lives in Olympia. Being in foster care and living in a car for at least a month were just some of the results of growing up with drug-using parents who also suffered with mental illness, he said.
Despite this, people often assume that drug-using parents are terrible people, he said.
“Both my mom and dad were amazing people to me,” Hart said. “People in addiction need help and a lot of it.”
Debbie Warfield told the story of her son, Spencer, who excelled in sports and had “an ideal childhood.”
Her son’s problems with heroin and other drugs could be traced back to an event when he was 5 years old. After dislocating his elbow, he was given pain medications.
“He remembered what a great feeling that was,” she said.
After graduating from Everett High School, he went on to attend college and began using street drugs. He was sent to treatment centers and relapsed. He overdosed twice before dying from a heroin overdose in 2012.
Warfield said she wants to see more access to medication-assisted treatment for drug users, but there’s often public resistance.
“There’s still a not-in-my-back yard type of thing,” she said. “People are sympathetic, but when it comes to where they’re located, it’s still, ‘We don’t want that here.’ ”
Celia O’Connor-Weaver, principal at Everett’s Hawthorne Elementary School, said children have trouble focusing on their studies when growing up in a home where one or both parents are using drugs.
“The children worry,” she said. “They cry. They don’t know how to help their parents.”
Some students later fall into the family pattern themselves, dropping out of school and sometimes abusing drugs, O’Conner-Weaver said.
One step the community could take is opening a resource center 24 hours/day where parents could get treatment locally, not be separated from their family and provide their kids a warm place to sleep, she said.
Kristina Jorgensen said she was once addicted to methamphetamine and was in a relationship with a heroin user. Her two children were temporarily removed from her home by the state’s Child Protective Services.
The removal of her children was a turning point — a realization that she “couldn’t get high anymore.”
Participating in Snohomish County’s Family Drug Treatment Court “held me accountable,” she said.
She now attends the University of Washington and has a goal of earning a law degree.
“I didn’t want to admit I had an addiction because I didn’t want to be torn apart from my kids,” she said.
Murray said she feels that one of the most important things she can do is listen to people who have personally been affected by drug problems and find out what actions are working.
“We want to do what we can to make sure communities get the resources they need,” she said.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.