Overdoses from heroin and other powerful drugs are so common in Snohomish County that health officials say the problem has become an epidemic.
Earlier this year, the Snohomish Health District reported that two-thirds of the 130 accidental overdose deaths in the county were caused by heroin and prescription opioids in 2013. The county’s rate of heroin deaths exceeds the statewide average.
An antidote to help reverse overdoses, called naloxone, helps block the effects of heroin and prescription pain medications such as oxycodone, Vicodin and codeine.
Yet the medication wasn’t available to the general public in Snohomish County until late last year. Since then, the number of locations where it’s available has more than doubled. Now it can be purchased without a prescription for about $125 at 10 area pharmacies and one Everett nonprofit.
The medication is administered into the nose of a patient who has overdosed. “You don’t have to have medical training, you just have to know how to do it,” said Shelli Young, a supervisor in the alcohol and drug program of Snohomish County Human Services.
Naloxone is safe, she said. It isn’t a narcotic. “You can’t get high from it,” she said. It has no effect on someone who isn’t experiencing an overdose, Young said.
The public can get training on how to use the medication when they buy the kits at pharmacies. Training also is available at a free 30-minute session open to the public scheduled on Nov. 9 in Snohomish.
Elizabeth Grant, executive director of the Snohomish Community Food Bank, said she first became aware of the problem when people starting coming to the food bank asking if they could get vouchers for naloxone. Volunteers who organized a cold weather shelter last year at the Snohomish Evangelical Free Church also saw homeless men and women with addiction problems, she said.
The naloxone training session was scheduled in Snohomish so that volunteers would know what to do if they encountered someone who was experiencing an overdose, she said. “We have a huge problem in the county,” Grant said. “Anyone who wants to attend is welcome. It’s about saving lives.”
The county now has 16 publicly funded detox beds in Everett, operated by Evergreen Recovery Centers. People sometimes have to wait for days to get into treatment, said Linda Grant, chief executive officer.
“We’re working on a second drug and alcohol detox center in Lynnwood that will open in early 2016,” she said. “We just bought the building at the beginning of September and now we’re preparing to start the remodel.” The facility will be able to treat 16 patients who stay five to six days to help them get through withdrawal, she said.
Steps such as making naloxone more available to the public and training on how to use the medication are important steps, but much more needs to be done, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.
That includes having treatment available to people on demand, as soon as they seek help, he said.
There needs to be more take back programs to safely dispose of prescription pain medications and get them out of the house, he said. And children need to understand the pills in the medicine cabinet can be very dangerous and can lead to a life of addiction, Goldbaum said.
“Having treatment truly available at the time a person is ready for it — that’s critical, but it’s still too late,” Goldbaum said. “We need to try to prevent people from become addicted in the first place. The problem hasn’t gone away.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cleo Harris, a treatment specialist working for Snohomish County’s Human Services Department, is offering a presentation on how to administer naloxone, an antidote that can help reverse overdoses of powerful opiate drugs. The training is open to the public. Antidote kits may be purchased without a prescription at some area pharmacies. The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Snohomish Evangelical Free Church, 210 Avenue B in Snohomish. To register, call Janet McElvaine at 360-563-2454 or email email@example.com.
Naloxone overdose rescue kits are available at:
Pavilion Pharmacy at Swedish Edmonds Hospital
7320 216th St. SW, Suite 100 425-673-3700
6807 Evergreen Way, 425-438-9380
2205 Broadway 425-252-5213
The AIDS Outreach Project/Snohomish County
1625 E Marine View Drive, # 4 425-258-2977
20725 Highway 99 425-712-0512
3711 88th St. NE, 360-530-7761
Tulalip Clinical Pharmacy
8825 34th Ave NE, Ste A 360-716-2660
404 State Ave. 360-658-5375
19200 N Kelsey St. 360-794-5555
27008 92nd Ave NW 360-629-0662
18800 142nd Ave. NE 425-455-2123
Source: Snohomish Health District, stopoverdose.org/
More information, including a brochure, Your Best Defense Against Opioid Overdose, is available at the Snohomish Health District website: www.snohd.org/Diseases-Risks/Injection-Drug-Use