Heroin trends show Thurston needs detox center

The OlympianJuly 6, 2014 

Heroin use and addiction is on the rise in Thurston County, as it is across the nation. But, among Washington’s five largest counties, Thurston County is the only one currently without a detox center.

STEVE BLOOM — Staff photographer

Heroin use and addiction is on the rise in Thurston County, as it is across the nation. But, among Washington’s five largest counties, Thurston County is the only one currently without a detox center.

Providence St. Peter Hospital had both high quality detox and inpatient, including one of the state’s very few programs for adolescents. No other county’s facility matched St. Peter’s high-acuity services, and they served hundreds of people annually.

But the hospital closed its chemical dependency center this spring, pending a review of procedures following the death of man withdrawing from alcoholism. Providence has been silent about when, or if, the detox center might reopen.

In the meantime, the closest facility for people seeking help to break their addictions is in Tacoma. That’s a problem.

Capacity at the Tacoma facility is limited and harder to access. For vulnerable, often destitute people, transportation is an obstacle.

We hope Providence will reopen its detox center soon. But the state Legislature can also help. They should move adequate funding for chemical dependency prevention campaigns and recovery programs to the top of their 2015 list of priorities.

Why? Because recent trends give every indication that our heroin problem is ready to explode.

Together! Executive Director Megan Sullivan says her substance prevention advocacy group’s 2012 survey of Thurston County high school students revealed that 4.7 percent of all Grade 10 students report they’ve tried heroin. Shocking. Even more alarming, 75 percent of people who try heroin use it again, and a high percentage of those become addicted.

Heroin addiction is growing fastest among young people in the 18-to-34 age group.

Kids from all levels of the socio-economic scale have moved to heroin from other opiates because it is so much cheaper than pills, and provides a more intense high. Prescription drugs, such as Oxycotin, sell for $1 a milligram on the street, and can cost as much as $50 to get high. For just $20, a user can purchase a gram of heroin, enough to last most users 24 hours.

The Thurston County sheriff and prosecutor are working with other agencies and nonprofits to better utilize available resources. But there’s just not enough funding to go around.

Without a local detox center, addicts are more likely to land in the Thurston County jail where, by law, treatment is not available. Inmates must go through the horrifying process of withdrawal with minimal medical monitoring.

And that’s something else state legislators must do in the next session: pass previously proposed measures that would permit jail staff to administer medications to ease the withdrawal process and treat the underlying mental illnesses that afflict so many addicts.

 

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