Special to The Olympian: State must address heroin epidemic, drug crimes

The heroin crisis in Washington state has reached the level of a state emergency.

The situation here is no different than in Vermont, where Gov. Peter Shumlin spent the entirety of his state address on the crisis of heroin and drug-related crime that “threatens our safety” and “compromises our quality of life.” I applaud his courage, honesty and proposed plan.

This is a tragedy of bureaucracy. All of our cogs went about their tasks while they failed to have any cognition of the big picture.

This crisis didn’t happen overnight, it happened on a line graph in plain sight of health officials.

A 500 percent increase in syringes exchanged by Thurston County locally since 2006 is just one indicator of the exponentially growing problem. Death threats, rampant heroin use and narcotic dealing at the Olympia Timberland Regional Library should have been the wake-up call.

Children and park employees from Spokane to Olympia are being stuck with used needles. However, the dirty syringes are just the tip of the iceberg.

A community meeting reported in Aberdeen’s Daily World described citizens outraged by drugs and sex traffic in the area. A new Wisconsin heroin awareness campaign states that 30 percent of heroin addicts turn to “survival sex” to feed their habit.

In rural Pacific County, a new K-9 officer was acquired to deal with “reports of prowlers in different neighborhoods around the county during all hours of the day and night.” A security guard is stationed at the summit of Capital Peak to keep addicts from stealing the copper metal wires.

Small-business owners are frustrated with vandalism, theft, dirty needles, condoms and blood splatter, as well as decreasing business revenue. It was reported that one business owner was putting in 12-hour days at his shop, then vigilantly watching security video feeds once he got home.

At $20 per gram (one user dose), heroin is seriously pulling down our economic recovery. Multiply those $20 fixes by the 1.2 million syringes handed out by Thurston County Health alone last year, and you can see the financial toll of this problem.

That money goes straight up the veins of addicts and down the interstate to Mexican cartels.

Many citizens become addicted to heroin after first becoming addicted to opiate pain killers. In 2007, the CDC noted that there were enough prescription opiates dispensed in the United States to keep everyone in the country high around the clock for three weeks.

Shumlin emphasized the most important component of his plan was a prevention campaign to stop people from entering this downward spiral. His comprehensive plan also included timely treatment interventions, better law enforcement coordination and stricter penalties for drug traffickers and drug-related crime.

We are asking our Gov. Jay Inslee and state legislators to recognize this epidemic and start an education, awareness and prevention campaign. With an epidemic that is growing at this rate, prevention is critical.

Join Concerned Olympians and add your voice.

Steven Welliever is a Washingtonian who has lived in Olympia since 1997 and is a member of Concerned Olympians.