State House backs Snohomish County opioid help center

It passed a bill which would put a similar diversion center program in Spokane County.

OLYMPIA — A Snohomish County program to help those dealing with opioid addiction and mental health challenges get services to stabilize their lives has won backing from the state House.

On Thursday, the House voted unanimously for a bill backing establishment of a center where people living on the streets can be brought immediately for temporary housing, medical attention and social services as soon as they ask for help.

Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, the bill’s prime sponsor, said it is part of the state’s efforts this session to help get people “off the street and get them on the road to recovery.”

“Now is the time for Washington state to do something about this opioid overdose problem we’re having and the addiction problem that we’re having,” said Hayes, who works for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

The diversion center is expected to open in March at 1918 Wall St. in Everett. It is the site of a former work release center that was shuttered due to budget cuts. There will be 44 beds to provide temporary shelter for people looking to regain their footing in society.

County officials have said they expect up to 95 percent of those brought to the diversion center will be wrestling with addiction to heroin and other opioids.

The center will be staffed by people trained in emergency medicine. It also will have those who can help clients obtain medically assisted treatment for opioid withdrawal, including prescriptions to Suboxone, the buprenorphine-based compound that can ease symptoms and improve chances of recovery.

House Bill 2287, which passed 98-0, also would launch a similar diversion center program in Spokane County. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby, introduced an identical bill in the Senate but it has not been acted on.

Snohomish County officials have said it will cost about $1.5 million a year to operate the diversion center.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who praised the concept in a visit to the site in January, requested $500,000 for the effort in his proposed supplemental budget. Hayes, Palumbo and other area lawmakers have said they will seek a year’s worth of funding in the spending plan the Legislature will draw up.

Under the bill, a study will be done to gauge the success of the center in helping people rebuild their lives and stay out of jail. If the results are positive, the county will be required to continue operating the program for a minimum of two years.

The legislative session is scheduled to end March 8.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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