The Opioid Crisis Is a Heroin Crisis in Washington State

a person sits in a dark bedroom holding their face possibly struggling with Heroin Addiction

As the rate of substance use disorders in the country continues to spile, heroin addiction continues to grip Washington State. While many people now view opioid medications as the primary problem, heroin is a familiar yet unsolved roadblock to addiction treatment progress.

Many people in Washington State are addicted to opioid painkillers but often turn to heroin when they are in a pinch and need a quick fix. On the other hand, many people who originally became hooked on heroin find their supply laced with potent prescription painkillers that make unintentional overdoses a genuine threat. Assisting people in finding an inpatient or outpatient program that helps them develop the skills they need to get sober is critical to solving the addiction problem the state faces.

The Heroin Threat in the United States

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reports that in 2015, there were almost 600,000 people in this country who had an addictive disorder involving heroin. As such, there were more primary treatment admissions for heroin than for any other illicit drug, despite the fact that there are fewer heroin users than there are users of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, or prescription drugs. Additionally, 44% of law enforcement agencies responded to the 2017 Drug Threat Survey report that heroin is the top drug in their area.

Heroin Use in Washington State

To say that heroin is part of the opioid problem in Washington would be an understatement. It is far more accurate to say that heroin drives the opioid crisis. Roughly 85% of all opioid-positive crime lab cases involved heroin. In all drug-positive cases in the state of Washington, heroin was the second-most-appearing drug, behind only methamphetamine. These factors are why the Seattle Field Division of the DEA reported that heroin is the most significant drug threat in the region.

Heroin in Seattle and King County

According to the heroin and prescription opiate task force, heroin and opioid use are at crisis levels in King County:

  • Between 2009 and 2014, the number of heroin overdose deaths in King County tripled from 49 to 156.
  • During that same period, the number of deaths due to prescription opioid painkillers decreased from 167 to 97.
  • Between 2008 and 2015, the number of drug seizures in King County that tested positive for heroin jumped almost sixfold, from 7% to 40%.
  • People under the age of 30 are the fastest-growing demographic needing opioid detoxification. In 2006, 38% of young adult detox admissions were for opioids. By 2014, it had climbed to 86%.

Heroin in Tacoma and Pierce County

Since 2007, treatment admissions for opioid or heroin addiction in Pierce County have climbed by well over 200%. Other statistics about heroin in Pierce County include:

  • 60% of first-time opioid admissions are between the ages of 18 and 29
  • A 2015 survey of participants in local needle exchange programs found that 74% use heroin.
  • Pre-2013, Pierce County saw about five new cases of hepatitis C per year. By 2016, the number had climbed to 32
  • 78% of hepatitis C cases were intravenous drug users
  • 56% of hepatitis C cases were between the ages of 18 and 35
  • In 2015, there were 871 AOD deaths in the county, up from 472 in 2005

The Roots of the Heroin Crisis in Everett and Snohomish County

How bad is the heroin epidemic in Snohomish County? Some concerning statistics include:

  • Although it has only 10% of the state’s population, the county accounts for 18% of all heroin-related deaths.
  • Between 2011-2013, one out of every five fatal heroin overdoses in Washington State happened in Snohomish County.
  • In 2013, two-thirds of the county’s overdose deaths were due to heroin or prescription opioids.
  • Heroin addiction is closely tied to crime in the county. During one two-year period, from May 2013 to May 2015, county burglary rates shot up 80% during one two-year period.
  • The county jail’s medical housing unit was once filled to over 200% capacity, with 90% of the patients receiving care for heroin or opioid withdrawal.

What Can Communities Do to Fight the Heroin Crisis in Washington State?

Local governments can push for a change in how people view heroin addiction and advocate for new measures to help people with addiction. These include:

  • Prevent improper opioid painkiller prescriptions
  • Increased access to medication-assisted treatment
  • Better access to lifesaving naloxone
  • Referrals to treatment for overdose survivors
  • Enhanced educational outreach and awareness campaigns
  • Coordination between jail release and outside support systems
  • Clean needle exchanges
  • Affordable housing

What Can Individuals Do to Combat Washington State’s Heroin Problem?

There are several actions you can take to fight heroin abuse:

  • Properly dispose of all unused, unwanted, or expired medications—especially opioids.
  • Familiarize yourself with local resources, like community agencies, task forces, and advocacy groups.
  • Report any suspected drug activity.
  • If you have a friend or family member abusing heroin, prescription pain medications, or any other drug, try to help them find an addiction treatment program.
  • Learn how to recognize the signs of a heroin overdose.
  • Learn how to properly administer naloxone.

Heroin Addiction Treatment at Northpoint Seattle

If you or someone you love is struggling with heroin addiction, we can help. Our evidence-based approach to treatment includes a wide range of therapies and services, all aimed at helping our patients build a foundation for long-term recovery. Call 888.483.6031 or contact us online to learn more.