This 2017 file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

This 2017 file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

Snohomish Health District: Up to 80,000 misusing opioids

A new study also estimates as many as 10,000 county residents are addicted to opioids.

EVERETT — Somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of Snohomish County residents either are addicted to opioids or are misusing them, a Snohomish Health District report estimates.

The study released Wednesday tried to quantify just how widespread the drug problem is. It’s one of the first such attempts to do so in the nation.

It found between 5,000 to 10,000 people in Snohomish County suffer from addiction, which the report calls opioid use disorder.

It’s likely that another 35,000 to 80,000 people are misusing opioids, according to the public health agency.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetics such as fentanyl, and some prescription medications, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others.

The numbers should be a useful tool for county health leaders, treatment experts, law enforcement and social workers who have been combining forces to tackle the issue.

“This is looking at backing out a little bit more to figure out how big is the problem in Snohomish County,” said Heather Thomas, a health district spokeswoman.

In 2017, there were 100 opioid-related deaths in the county. As of early December 2018, there were 95 such deaths, according to preliminary estimates. The peak of opioid-related deaths occurred in 2011 at 145 countywide. Increased access to naloxone, an overdose reversing drug, has helped reduce the opioid death toll.

The health district used a local database of emergency medical service calls across the county to pull data for overdoses reported in July. It also used Providence Regional Medical Center Everett emergency room reports and came up with an estimate of 1,400 people given hospital care annually because of opioids.

From there, the district used a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention model to estimate the number of people in the county who are addicted to or misusing opioids. Dr. Mark Beatty, the health officer for the Snohomish Health District, drew on other sets of data to test his estimates and develop ranges of how many people could be affected.

Stephanie Wright, a Snohomish County Council member and chairwoman of the county’s Board of Health, called the study “groundbreaking work” that will help evaluate progress.

Thomas, the health district spokeswoman, said the numbers can have far-reaching applications, such as: “How much treatment do we need in Snohomish County? This will allow us collectively to be able to make sure there is adequate capacity.”

The study also had a breakdown of settings in which opioid users were most likely to express an interest in getting into treatment.

It found that 23 percent of overdose patients transported to hospitals were interested compared to 55 percent on withdrawal watch in a hospital emergency room. The most receptive — at 78 percent — were clients at needle-exchange programs.

Helping pay for the study was money from the county’s one-tenth of 1 percent chemical dependency and mental health sales tax and a CDC grant through the state Department of Health.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

For more information about opioids in Snohomish County, go to: snohomishoverdoseprevention.com.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioids, contact the 24-hour Washington Recovery Help Line at 866-789-1511.

Naloxone, an overdose reversing drug, is available without a prescription at local pharmacies. A list of pharmacies where it can be purchased is available online at stopoverdose.org.

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