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Sep 16

Working together to address the opioid epidemic in Snohomish County

Posted on September 16, 2019 at 8:46 AM by Kari Bray

Rows of lit candles represented hundreds of lives lost to overdose over the years.

People packed the plaza at the Snohomish County government campus for a vigil on September 5. They listened as speakers shared stories about the opioid epidemic. 

Mothers spoke about losing children. The county executive, the sheriff and a representative from the Health District touched on their agencies’ efforts to tackle this crisis. A superior court judge and a guitarist in a local rock band shared something in common: a personal battle with opioid use disorder and years without using. 
Guests light candles at vigil
Several speakers are in recovery and now work to help those still struggling with an opioid use disorder. They emphasized love and hope. The road to recovery may look different from person to person, but that journey isn’t something you do alone.

“You are not alone,” Superior Court Judge Joe Wilson said. “You never have been alone. You never will be alone.”

Within days of “A Night to Remember, A Time to Act,” the Health District finished analyzing data from its third 7-Day Point in Time overdose count.

During one week this past July, 27 people in Snohomish County overdosed because of opioids. Two people died.
PIT 2019
Heroin was the biggest culprit during that week, sometimes mixed with other substances such as alcohol, meth, benzodiazepines like Valium, or other prescription medications. 

It wasn’t feasible to track how many overdoses included fentanyl in the mix, but the synthetic opioid – up to 100 times more lethal than prescription opioids or heroin – is of increasing concern. Data from the state Department of Health and cases from the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force indicate that deaths related to synthetic opioids are on the rise here.

Nearly a third of people booked into the county jail during the count were on opioid withdrawal watches. The number of inmates in medical detox exceeds the capacity the jail was designed to handle.

The youngest person who overdosed that week was 15. The oldest was 66. Most were in their 20s or 30s. The majority overdosed at a private residence – at home, or maybe at a family member or friend’s home. They’d usually gotten their drugs on the street.

Looking at the numbers, it makes sense to ask: What are we doing about this?

There’s no quick and easy answer, but a lot of work is underway.

Snohomish County is unique. Partners have come together to face the opioid crisis. Local leaders recognize that this is not something any one agency can handle on its own.

The Snohomish Health District is one partner in the countywide Opioid Response Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group. We’re the public health voice in a room where people are eager to find solutions.
Resource table at Overdose Prevention Night
Here’s a look at some key Health District efforts, currently supported by nearly $500,000 in federal and state grants.
  • Partnering with Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and Swedish Edmonds to track data and follow-up with patients in their emergency departments seen for opioid-related overdoses.
  • Healthy communities specialist Pia Sampaga-Khim works with schools, parent groups, senior centers, health care providers and others in the community on education and prevention. Through interactive presentations such as “Not in My House: How to talk to your kids about opioids,” she teaches parents and caregivers to recognize and respond to signs of drug use. At events like the first Pregnancy and Beyond Conference in March, her work also has pulled together medical providers and social workers to talk about compassionate, effective care for pregnant women, mothers and newborns affected by opioid use disorder.
  • The Snohomish Health District and Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office have partnered to begin a new opioid death review to better understand how and why this epidemic continues to kill people, and how we can better intervene.
  • Kyle Wansing recently joined us thanks to AmeriCorps VISTA, a federal program coordinated locally in partnership with HopeWorks. He will be working on capacity building and community outreach, specifically connecting with business owners, chambers of commerce, service organizations and other groups that are in a position to make a difference. For example, if employers had more resources to help them work with new hires who are in recovery, it could create pathways to employment. This can be crucial for helping people rebuild their lives and stay in recovery.
  • Healthy communities specialist Juliet D’Alessandro is working on a new grant project focused around the Darrington and Sky Valley communities, where access to prevention, treatment and recovery services isn’t as readily available. She is working with schools, libraries and healthcare partners in those communities to shape the direction of this planning phase.
  • Disease intervention specialist Jordan Bower performs Hepatitis C testing at the county jail, AIDS Outreach Project/ Snohomish County Syringe Exchange, and Denney Juvenile Justice Center. Recently, her work has expanded to include confirmatory as well as preliminary testing. She will also be coordinating with medical providers to expand access so that when someone is referred for treatment, they have support regardless of whether they are in recovery. 
  • The District provides free needle clean-up kits. The kits allow people to safely pick up and dispose of used syringes. We’ve distributed 1,293 kits so far.
Snohomish Health District group at Aquasox Overdose Prevention Night
Anyone can help prevent overdoses. Here are some tips:
  1. Take time to learn about opioids. The 10 Things to Know About Opioids campaign is a good place to start. Don’t be afraid to bring questions to your medical provider, or to talk with your loved ones about opioids.
  2. Safely store and dispose of medications. You can find a secure disposal kiosk near you on the MED-Project website.
  3. Consider carrying and learning to use naloxone/Narcan. There’s a training coming up on Sept. 18. Learn more on the event page.
    The opioid overdose reversal drug is now available at pharmacies for all Washington residents under a standing order from the state health officer; it’s like a prescription that applies to all Washingtonians.
    During the seven-day count this past July, 20 lives were saved because naloxone was given during an overdose. Eight of them were given naloxone by a friend, family member or bystander.
  4. Listen and speak up. If someone has a story about how they have been affected by addiction, take the time to listen and offer support. 
    Do you have your own story? Share it if you are comfortable doing so. We’re in this together.


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