EVERETT, Wash. – The United States Department of Justice announced it will pump millions of dollars into Washington State to try to get a handle on an opioid epidemic.
A large portion of the money will go into prescription monitoring and expanding drug courts.
But some places in our region are looking to try something new called safe injection sites, where addicts could use drugs while under medical supervision to avoid overdose deaths.
While King County is looking to open two facilities, Snohomish County rejected the same for all unincorporated neighborhoods.
But council members said they will examine several options, including pairing up more social workers with police officers to offer the homeless a way out of addiction.
“This opioid crisis is the worst I’ve seen in 30 plus years in law enforcement,” said Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary. “Creating a site for people to do more of it is going in the wrong direction.”
Trenary sat with council leaders Monday asking them to outright ban the sites.
“I don’t think it’s the right direction, quite frankly,” he said.
The goal of a safe consumption site, say proponents, is to reduce overdose fatalities.
Several King County cities already banned them, and while none are in the works for Snohomish County, council members say they wanted to get ahead of any future plans.
“Really worried about the potential for that to creep up into Snohomish County,” said Nate Nehring.
“At the end of the day we have to look at this as a land-use issue,” said Brian Sullivan.
The county health department’s website shows where addicts can find treatments that use methadone or sobaxone to wean people from their habit.
“The goal needs to be to get these people to help to turn their lives around and get them into treatment,” Nehring said.
The sheriff’s office recently expanded a program that embeds social workers with deputies, offering addicts outreach and recovery options.
But the real problem, say officials, is a lack of treatment facilities. Only 32 detox beds are available for nearly 800,000 people in Snohomish County.
“Every time somebody says they want to get help, we have to either drive them to another county or more often put them on a plane and fly them to another state,” Trenary said.
The county has been hit especially hard in the opioid epidemic. In July, emergency responders dealt with 37 overdoses in one week’s time.
But there are reasons to celebrate. Last week the county announced local police officers had saved 100 lives using overdose-reversing drugs.