Summit kicks off to tackle illicit opioid market

SEATTLE – How can police, doctors and lawmakers make a dent in our state’s growing opioid epidemic?

That’s the goal of a two-day summit being hosted at the University of Washington where hundreds of key stakeholders met on Thursday.

While some are claiming small successes in the fight against harmful drugs, others said there is still much more work to be done.

“When are the cartels arriving in America? They are here,” said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, and a Seattle resident.

McCaffrey shared his insight with Washington’s top law enforcement, medical, mental health and legal minds -- all trying to buck the growing trend of heroin and opioid abuse.

“When the 8th graders are using drugs, the sheriff’s going see them downstream 10 years later, for sure,” he added.

The point of the summit is to slow the trend of rising drug overdose deaths in our state.

“Unfortunately, no area has been spared,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, with the Washington State Department of Health.

Snohomish County found itself on the front lines of the epidemic. Everett mom Cate Harrington decided on her own to collect used needles to protect neighborhood kids and her own.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found more than 50 percent of young people get their drugs for free from a friend or relative.

That’s why law enforcement officials want to expand drug take-back programs to get pills out of medicine cabinets and out of reach of kids.

“The group I want to get to, the most important group, is the parents,” said Commander Pat Slack, with the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office Regional Drug and Gang Task Force. “Making them realize there is a threat in their home and they have to get involved.”

These professionals attending the summit shared their innovative ideas and success stories in tackling drug abuse, like doctors reducing the sheer number of drugs being given to patients.

“We decreased our proscribing almost 9 percent over the past couple of years,” said Auburn Medical Center’s Dr. Stephen Anderson.

Anderson believes lifesaving overdose-reversing drugs like naloxone should also be spread father and wider than it is today.

“We don’t need this stuff locked up in our hospitals and locked up in our EMS, we need it out at the parties,” he said.

“We’ve had to completely rethink our business,” said Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary.

The department said deputies are now embedding social workers in the field to bring help to where addicts are -- on the streets.

“I would argue in 30 years of policing it’s the worst we’ve ever seen,” added Trenary.

Once the summit ends, the state attorney general’s office will then develop and recommend ways to reduce the illegal drug supply finding a way into homes across Western Washington.

“What are the next solutions we can put forward and move forward as a community to address this really serious situation,” said state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.