The State of Washington has experienced an increase in heroin addiction over recent years like the rest of the country. Throughout the U.S., overdoses have killed more Americans than traffic accidents.
Various types of opioid overdoses took over 33,000 lives in 2015. The factors of this boost in heroin use are based on a few things. The availability has increased and compared to prescription opioids, the price is much lower. Heroin amounts confiscated at the southwest border of the U.S. were 500 kg (give or take) from 2000 – 2008. In 2013, that amount had quadrupled to 2,196.
Heroin addiction in Washington State is especially prevalent in densely-populated cities such as Seattle and Tacoma. The fact that these areas are also port cities make this the first stop for many of the drugs being smuggled into the country.
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee had this to say about the effects of heroin and how it’s being managed.
“Across our state, we are seeing the terrible effects of heroin and prescription narcotics on our families, friends and communities. Although more must be done, we’ve made significant progress in reducing overprescribing of opioids, and with health care reform, a record number of families who just a few years ago had no medical coverage and limited means to regain their health, can now seek treatment for substance use disorders.”
1. Heroin Use, a Top Concern in Washington State
Heroin is among the top five drugs most abused in WA State. Heroin effects are quickly becoming one of the greatest drug threats in Washington State, along with methamphetamines. The spokesperson for the DEA, Jodie Underwood, stated that heroin in Washington is the number one drug threat today. With huge spikes in heroin related deaths due to overdoses, it has become a top priority to get heroin off the streets of cities in the state of Washington. Many of the heroin users today started heroin use because they could no longer access prescription opioid drugs. Heroin effects mimic that of some prescription drugs which are getting harder to obtain but perhaps the more important factor is that it’s cheaper.
2. In the State of Washington, Heroin is The Most Common Drug Mentioned in Police Reports
In cities like Seattle, WA, the police reports show that the most common drug mentioned is heroin. Here are some alarming stats based on research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It demonstrates the increase of heroin use in a short time span based in the Seattle Metro Area.
- In 2012, heroin made up 19.9 % of drug reports. In 2013, that percentage rose to 22.6.
- The amount of heroin addicts seeking treatment rose from 15.3 % of total admissions in 2011 to 20.5% in 2012.
3. Heroin Related Overdose Deaths Have Quadrupled
With the increase of heroin use has come related deaths. The spike of heroin deaths in the Seattle area has risen by 60%. Statistics show that most demographics have seen an increase of heroin related overdose deaths. In total, deaths related to heroin in Washington State and other States have quadrupled in just six years.
Since 2010, there has been a steady increase of mortality rates. It was in 2015 that they saw the steepest rise of drug related deaths they’ve experienced in the last 17 years. The rise was 58% more than the previous year. This is due to more users and a higher purity of heroin being introduced, making it more potent and therefore, more lethal.
4. The Slow Incline of Heroin Use that Snuck up on Washington State
While officials could see that police reports were showing an increase of heroin use in areas of the state of Washington, they weren’t prepared for the huge 60% spike in 2014. Here are some stats that show the incline of heroin use and deaths through recent years.
- In 2014, heroin overdose caused 293 deaths in WA which doubled from 2008.
- Deaths caused by heroin overdose between 2004-2014 were mainly in the 15-34 year old demographic. This is the largest heroin user age group.
- King County, in Washington state, saw the most heroin use related deaths they’d experienced in the past 20 years in 2014.
- In 2009, there were a total of 49 heroin-related deaths. By 2012, it had increased to 84.
- Heroin addicts who have admitted themselves in hopes to recover have doubled. Heroin admissions have never been higher since 1999.
- Between 2002-2012, heroin users who have been admitted into a treatment plan have tripled. The number went from 2,647 in 2002 to 7500 in 2012.
- It’s believed that 80% of heroin users today were originally addicted to prescription opioids.
- Over 90% of heroin users interviewed said they switched from an opioid prescription to heroin because it’s easier to get and cheaper.
- Although all demographics increased, males from 25-44 saw the highest increase in death rates at 22.2%.
5. Seattle and Tacoma, WA are Hot Spots for Substance Abuse
Signs of heroin addiction can be seen all over the streets of downtown Seattle as well as in Tacoma. The cities are easily accessible by road and by ship ports. Seattle has even more access with its international airport on top by road and sea. These port cities are also the most densely populated places in Washington State. Their percentage of heroin users compared to other municipalities in WA are much higher.
6. Legalization of Marijuana is Contributing to the Heroin Incline
The legalization of marijuana in Washington is a large part of the reason heroin has become so prevalent. Now that marijuana has been legalized, it’s easy to obtain and can be purchased in various spots all over Washington State.
This caused the illegal marijuana market to plummet, leaving Mexican drug cartels to find another market. They began focusing on cultivating heroin mainly as well as methamphetamines. Fields that once grew marijuana are now filled with opium poppies to then be manufactured into pure, potent heroin.
7. People Addicted to Prescription Pills are Turning to Heroin
Heroin addiction can mainly be attributed to past misuse of prescription opioids. One of the risks of taking opioid pain killers is becoming addicted to them. For those who became dependent or abused opioids over the past year, they are most at risk of starting heroin use. The transition between the misuse of prescription opioids and heroin use is one in the same. As heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain, it is the new “go to” drug.
For those who abused prescription drugs, they are finding those same drugs more difficult to come by now. When the medical community realized the epidemic that was occurring due to prescriptions like opioid painkillers, they made it much more complicated to obtain. Naturally, people started turning to heroin for their “fix” as it gives users a similar feeling. Heroin just so happens to be abundant, thanks to the Mexican supplying it in lieu of marijuana. It’s also cheaper than prescription opioids.
8. The Signs of Heroin Abuse in WA
The stigma in WA, or anywhere else, that surrounds the signs of a heroin addict are not as they seem. Many heroin addicts started in the comfort of their home before losing everything to the drug. You should know the red flags to look for with heroin and any other form of the drug being used. It’s not always about someone hiding in a back alley with needles strewn about. Knowing the common signs of heroin addiction or abuse could save a life. Here’s what to look for:
- Paraphernalia – a tell tale sign of heroin use are syringes, dirty spoons, rubber tubes (for wrapping around your arm), small bags with a trace of white powder in them, and glass/metal pipes.
- A change in hygiene – If you happen to notice someone you care about has drastically changed their grooming practices, this could be a sign of heroin abuse. This can include irregular showering, a lack of care for how they look and poor hygiene in general
- Hiding arms and legs – A heroin user is naturally going to go through great lengths to hide their addiction. One of the ways to do this is to hide the needle marks on their arms and legs. If someone wears long sleeve shirts and pants in mid summer, it’s possible they’re using heroin.
- Constant itchiness – One of the side effects of heroin is itchiness so the user will likely scratch excessively.
- A change in appetite – Heroin will suppress the appetite, causing users to drastically lose weight. You may notice they don’t want to eat and vomiting may ensue, another side effect of heroin use.
- History of prescription drug abuse – Being that the connection between prescription drug use and the heroin use of today is so strong, this may be one of the most obvious indicators. If your loved one was ever abusing prescription drugs, the likelihood of heroin addiction is high. That being said, if your loved one is abusing prescription drugs, that is also a sign that they could be addicted to heroin. The two chemicals are so similar in feeling that they substitute each other.
- A change in personality – If your loved one starts to change drastically in unexplainable ways, it’s possible that heroin addiction is the cause. Lying, stealing, and abnormal behavior are all signs of addiction.
9. Washington’s New Bill Forces Heroin Users into Treatment
The State of Washington is actively trying to combat heroin use and the deaths that are occurring because of it. Amidst the drug epidemic, the Washington Senate is taking extreme measures.
A new bill to combat heroin abuse was proposed by lawmakers in Washington State. The bill would force heroin and opioid users to get drug treatment in Washington. The details of the bill are that heroin addicts who have been arrested for possessing the drugs three times within a year, have been hospitalized due to heroin use, or have three or more track marks can be sent to drug rehab involuntarily.
It has become quite obvious that heroin addiction is a major problem in WA state and while some say involuntary commitment isn’t going to fix it, it’s time to take drastic action. Heroin withdrawal is extremely uncomfortable for users. Therefore, it’s often essential to be under medical supervision. What lawmakers don’t understand is that heroin detox in Washington is just the first step. While helpful, for lasting sobriety, the intensive help will usually have to extend into rehab. When a heroin addict realizes they can’t control their cravings past detox, panic can set in, which puts them at risk of a lethal heroin overdose. So while the intent is there to improve heroin addiction in WA state, they may not be going about it properly.
10. Washington State is Actively Supplying Naloxone Kits for Heroin Overdose
A special task force, known as the Heroin and Prescription Opioid Addiction Task Force, has been directed to confront the epidemic in King County, WA. Their mandate is to focus on local efforts for preventing heroin and opioid use. This comes in the form of interventions and getting people the treatment they need through heroin withdrawal in a supervised setting.
Naloxone is being distributed to homeless housing providers to help reduce heroin overdoses. There are also naloxone kits being given to local Sheriff’s offices in the event they need to conduct an overdose reversal. Not only is Naloxone being given to police but they are also being educated on the signs of heroin abuse. This allows them to react quickly in an emergency situation.
While the state of Washington has seen a huge spike in heroin addiction in the past few years, lawmakers are implementing various ways of combatting the epidemic. Being educated on the signs of heroin abuse and signs of heroin addiction can save lives from an overdose. Washington State is using methods to help heroin users and further crack down on people dealing with heroin. The hope is that they will eventually see a decline in heroin use.