Search continues for answers to growing heroin epidemic

MUKILTEO — Younger and younger people are trying heroin in Snohomish County, and they’re dying from it.

Deaths in the community from heroin, along with the prescription painkillers that produce a similar high, are most common among people ages 18 to 29, said Colt Davis, a Mukilteo police officer.

“The kids are getting younger and younger when they start trying these drugs … even as young as elementary school,” he said.

The heroin epidemic is taking place throughout the nation, including Snohomish County. Still, it can be difficult for people to acknowledge that it affects small, safe suburbs such as Mukilteo, Davis said.

At the mayor’s direction, Davis is organizing a public forum to talk about heroin and related drugs. The conversation will cover addiction, resources and what parents should know. The event is set for 6 p.m. March 15 at City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way.

“We talk about some real issues here,” Davis said. “We’re not trying to sugar coat anything. We’re trying to give everyone a good look at this issue. We don’t talk about this enough. Please come.”

The forum is part of a focus this year by Mayor Jennifer Gregerson on substance abuse and mental health issues faced by young people in town.

“The community pays attention when there’s an event that happens but really it’s something we should be concerned about all year long,” she said. “We’re working on a series of educational events.”

The Mukilteo Youth Coalition is part of those efforts, as are social services and schools, Gregerson said. The idea is to reach out to families who may feel like they’re alone.

“I’m hoping we can overcome that culture where people feel ashamed of these issues and the moment where they need more help and more support, they turn inward,” Gregerson said. “I think we should be there for the community and the people who are battling these issues.”

The forum presenter is Susan Kingston with the Center for Opioid Safety Education at the University of Washington. She will talk about current trends and drug prevention.

In Snohomish County, drug and alcohol overdoses account for nearly half of accidental deaths every year. Many of those deaths don’t make headlines. That wasn’t the case in 2008, when Mukilteo lost Sean Gahagan, 17, a recent Kamiak High School graduate, to a heroin overdose. Since then, more and more families in the county have come forward to talk about young people who’ve died, in hopes that others will take action. Some go so far as to include that information in the obituaries. Many heroin users started with painkillers and eventually moved to the street drug, which is cheaper and sometimes easier to obtain.

Heroin problems also can manifest as crimes when users turn to car prowls and burglaries to support their habits, Davis said.

Law enforcement, schools and families have to work together, he said.

“It affects all of us and the more education we have on the matter, the more we can get information to parents and kids and hopefully break the cycle of addiction,” he said. “This is happening to our children and we need to be more aware.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Public forums

The city of Mukilteo plans a series of public events this year related to young people, drug and alcohol abuse and mental health. A forum focused on the heroin epidemic is set for 6 p.m. March 15 at City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way.

The next event in the series is the Children’s Mental Wellness Fair, set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 7 at Evergreen Middle School in Everett. Parents are encouraged to attend to learn about topics including suicide, self-harm and bullying. There also will be information about issues specific to young people who are gay or lesbian.

A third event with a focus on police, drugs and gangs is expected to follow in September.

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