EVERETT — It was a doctor who introduced Amber Dariotis to opioids. She went to a clinic after an injury and was prescribed 240 10mg oxycodone pills every two weeks for three years.
After her doctor was disciplined for over-prescribing, Dariotis was cut off.
“What do you do? You go to the street because you’re sick and it hurts,” she said. “When you lose everything — your kids, your house, your dignity — it sucks. You feel like you have nowhere to go. You can’t even trust your own doctor because that’s the person that got you addicted.”
Then, she saw an ad on Facebook for a different kind of clinic. It was Ideal Option, an organization that offers medication-assisted treatment. Practitioners prescribe Suboxone for opioid-addicted patients. It treats the physical dependency, and it’s bolstered by personal counseling.
Now, Dariotis said, she’s been sober for two years. But the story of her downfall isn’t uncommon.
Opioids have torn through communities across the country. Data from the Drug Enforcement Administration show that more than 220 million opioid pills flooded Snohomish County between 2006 and 2012. That’s enough for 45 pills a year for each resident.
According to county data, Snohomish County holds 10% of the state’s population but accounts for 18% of opioid-related deaths. From 2011 to 2013, about one of every five of the state’s heroin deaths occurred in the county.
On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, joined Dariotis, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, health care administrators, law enforcement officers and others to celebrate the opening of Ideal Option’s new eight-room clinic on the corner of 43rd Street and Hoyt Avenue. The company used to operate in much smaller offices on Colby Avenue.
Larsen and Franklin then joined others for a roundtable discussion of the stigma, struggles and solutions surrounding the opioid crisis.
“Addiction is not a moral failing, it’s a disease that requires medical treatment,” Larsen said.
He cited recent federal legislation allocating $500 million to fight opioids and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 as positive steps in fighting the opioid epidemic.
Charissa Fotinos, deputy chief medical officer for the state Health Care Authority, said addiction needs to be treated like any other disease, without stigma.
“We don’t kick people out of their families because they have asthma,” she said. “We don’t kick people out of their families because they have diabetes. This is no different. Trust me, I’m a doctor.”
Ideal Option has offices in 10 states and 26 Washington cities, including Monroe and Arlington. But CEO Tim Kilgallon said the company is looking for more organizations to help battle addiction.
“This is an easy population to overlook,” he said. “When you see the path that a number of our patients have taken to get here, you realize it could happen to anybody.”
Kilgallon said the clinic is one piece of the larger puzzle of treating addiction.
Judge Joe Wilson presides over Snohomish County Drug Court. He said the court doesn’t have a formal relationship with Ideal Option, but many of his program’s participants start at the clinic. If people are in medication-assisted treatment, he doesn’t have to hold them in jail, he said.
“We need to work in conjunction with folks like Ideal Option so we’re providing a whole range of services,” he said. “It’s the difference between life and death.”
Additionally, the Everett Police Department’s community outreach and enforcement team connects people addicted to opioids with Ideal Option or the Snohomish County Diversion Center.
Sgt. John Zeka, who supervises the Everett unit, said the clinic’s central location makes it easier for officers to get future patients the assistance they need.
“When my team goes out, we’re trying to help people,” he said. “It’s also important to know the other half of this is the enforcement part. If you’re not willing to work with us and you want to continue committing crimes, that’s the other option. But getting them help is our first option.”
Mayor Franklin said collaboration among government agencies, nonprofits and private businesses has been the key to fighting the epidemic. She said from April to June the county diversion center treated nearly 200 people and referred 81 to treatment and 27 to housing. Discharges from the diversion center to treatment rose 46%, she said.
“At times as mayor, I often hear that we aren’t doing anything,” she said. “I guess I understand at face value that may appear to be the case, but I’ve spent most of my career working in housing and human services and I can tell you that we are getting better and everything we’re doing collaboratively is making a real difference.”
Increasing opportunities for housing and employment are other targets, the mayor said.
Larsen said the work being done in the county is a model for the rest of the state. At the national level, he said, he was glad to see local organizations following some of the same practices as other national leaders in the fight against opioids.
He attended the talk to learn about the issue and ask questions, he said.
“With the growing diversity of the population, do people of color have the same kind of access?” he said. “The same set of questions goes for folks in the LGBTQ-plus community.”
Tribal nations within the state have 30% to 40% higher opioid-related death rates, Fotinos said.
Another benefit to working together is finding those barriers, Franklin said.
“Having patients in this program share their story and provide that eyewitness account that this is a program that really works, is good,” she said. “I would like to see other jurisdictions across the region take those steps as well. All of our communities have this experience so I’d love to be able share what we’ve seen as successful in Everett outside of Everett.”