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How Many Opioid Overdoses Are Suicides?

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Mady Ohlman was 22 on the evening some years ago when she stood in a friend's bathroom looking down at the sink.

"I had set up a bunch of needles filled with heroin because I wanted to just do them back-to-back-to-back," Ohlman recalls. She doesn't remember how many she injected before collapsing, or how long she lay drugged-out on the floor.

"But I remember being pissed because I could still get up, you know?"

She wanted to be dead, she says, glancing down. A wisp of straight brown hair slips from behind an ear across her thin face.

Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe is a University District coffee shop and a source of vegan dishes.
Facebook Photo/Chaco Canyon

Signs of public drug-taking are all over Seattle’s University District.

But an overflowing container of used needles proved too much for one restaurant customer.

The opioid crisis is front and center at the Washington Legislature this week. On Monday, lawmakers heard testimony on three bills aimed at preventing and treating opioid addiction and reducing overdose deaths.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants state lawmakers to declare the opioid epidemic a public health crisis.

On average, two people die each day in Washington from opioid overdoses. That includes deaths from prescription and synthetic opioids, as well as heroin.

The U.S. foster care system is overwhelmed, in part because America's opioid crisis is overwhelming. Thousands of children have had to be taken out of the care of parents or a parent who is addicted.

Indiana is among the states that have seen the largest one-year increase in the number of children who need foster care. Judge Marilyn Moores, who heads the juvenile court in Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, says the health crisis is straining resources in Indiana.

The goal is simple: a drug that can relieve chronic pain without causing addiction.

But achieving that goal has proved difficult, says Edward Bilsky, a pharmacologist who serves as the provost and chief academic officer at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, Wash.

"We know a lot more about pain and addiction than we used to," says Bilsky, "But it's been hard to get a practical drug."

It has the power to save lives by targeting opioid overdoses — something that kills more than 140 Americans every day. And now Narcan, the nasal spray that can pull a drug user back from an overdose, is being carried by all of Walgreens' more than 8,000 pharmacies.


This week, some Seattle-area leaders told Amazon they'd like to hit the refresh button on their relationship with the company. Is Seattle going overboard with the apologizing? And what does Amazon owe Seattle for its success?

There's about 10 feet between Judge Craig Hannah's courtroom bench and the place where a defendant stands to be arraigned here in Buffalo City Court.

But for 26-year-old Caitlyn Stein, it has been a long, arduous 10 feet.

"This is your first day back! Good to see you!" Judge Hannah says as he greets her.

"Good to see you," Stein says, smiling.

"We've got to do that after picture. We did the before," Judge Hannah reminds her.

Oxycodone pills.
Flickr Photo/Be.Futureproof (CC BY 2.0)/

Washington state’s attorney general and the attorney for the city of Seattle have filed separate lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma.

Both the city and the state claim drug companies have contributed to the ongoing opioid and heroin epidemic.  

In Cambridge, Mass., a woman named Kristin sits down on a stone bench to talk about a common but rarely discussed injury that's starting to grow along with the opioid epidemic: rape.

Registered nurse Sammy Mullally holds a tray of supplies to be used by a drug addict at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday May 11, 2011.
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck

Bill Radke speaks with Bellevue Mayor John Stokes about why the city is set to ban safe injection sites from the city. King County has said that it will create to sites where drugs users can go and safely use drugs under medical supervision. 

With addiction such a prominent problem, experts say it’s time to use words that don’t carry judgement. Studies show that saying “addiction” instead of “substance abuse,” and “person with substance abuse disorder” instead of “junkie,” affects the treatment patients receive, as well as public policy.

Tacoma's new outdoor shelter is similar to this fabric tent. It will hold private tents, showers and other services for more than 65 residents.
City of Tacoma

Showers, bathrooms, personal storage, outreach and community services will all be available to some 65 residents of a new outdoor shelter in Tacoma that opens in a couple of weeks.

Courtesy of Dylan Rae Metcalfe

Growing up, Dylan Rae Metcalfe could do whatever she wanted.  

“My mom let me do all kinds of sideways shit,” she said. “Like, if I wanted to smoke pot or drink or smoke cigarettes or have sex or whatever, my mom allowed it ‘as long as it's happening in the house.’ That was awesome to me.”

KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman

Mayor Ed Murray drops his reelection bid, clearing the way for a wide-open race for Seattle's next mayor. 

Democrats call for a special prosecutor to investigate President Trump after he fires FBI director James Comey.

Opponents of a proposed safe-injection site for heroin users in King County launch a campaign to ban it before it can happen.

And the Kent School District cancels an international trip over concerns that undocumented students might not be able to participate.

Michael Ryan, 45, is a juvenile judge in Cleveland, Ohio. And like many of the kids who end up in his courtroom, he didn't have an easy childhood.

He adored his mother, he tells his son — also named Michael, 19, at StoryCorps in Cleveland, but she was addicted to heroin.

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photo courtesy of UW Innovative Programs Research Group

Heavy alcohol use and binge drinking are on the rise in the military. And many service members with a problem don’t voluntarily seek treatment.

Research from the University of Washington found that allowing soldiers to assess the impacts of their drinking confidentially can help them cut down.

In 1964, the U.S. surgeon general released a report on the health impacts of smoking, and it shaped the public and government's attitudes toward tobacco for years to come. On Thursday, another surgeon general's report was issued, this time tackling a much broader issue: addiction and the misuse and abuse of chemical substances. The focus isn't just one drug, but all of them.

The scariest thing about heroin? 'You're gonna love it'

Oct 19, 2016
Alyssa started using heroin when she was 14. She’s now 20 and works as a daycare teacher.
Flickr photo / B.A.D.

When she was 10 years old, Alyssa found the spot where her parents hid the alcohol. The moment it touched her lips, she was addicted to that escape. (Her last name is being withheld to protect her privacy).

On the final day of June 2015, Colin LePage rode waves of hope and despair. It started when LePage found his 30-year-old son, Chris, at home after an apparent overdose. Paramedics rushed Chris by helicopter to one of Boston's flagship medical centers.

Doctors revived Chris' heart, but struggled to stabilize his temperature and blood pressure. At some point, a doctor or nurse mentioned to LePage that his son had agreed to be an organ donor.

"There was no urgency or, 'Hey, you need to do this.' I could see genuine concern and sadness." LePage says, his voice quavering.

Two often-overlooked medications might help millions of Americans who abuse alcohol to quit drinking or cut back.

Public health officials, building on a push to treat people who abuse opioids with medications, want physicians to consider using medications to treat alcohol addiction. The drugs can be used in addition to or sometimes in place of peer-support programs, they say.

Many people struggling with opioid addiction can't find a doctor to provide medication-assisted treatment, even though it's highly effective. One reason could be that doctors who are qualified to prescribe the medication typically treat just a handful of patients.

Registered nurse Sammy Mullally holds a tray of supplies to be used by a drug addict at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday May 11, 2011.
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck

Now that a task force to address King County’s heroin epidemic has unveiled its recommendations, the hard work begins. 

Some of the strategies in the report are already in motion, like making naloxone, a drug that prevents overdoses, readily available.

A task force to address King County’s heroin epidemic will release recommendations this week that could include a safe consumption site for people who use drugs.

The group will make another recommendation: creating a buprenorphine program at the site of Seattle’s Needle Exchange program.

Alexander Rhodes stumbled on internet pornography accidentally at the age of 11. His initial curiosity soon became compulsion, and from there, addiction.

Federal data suggest illegally manufactured fentanyl, a drug that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, is behind an increase in synthetic opioid deaths.

Heroin needle
Flickr Photo/William Fahrnbach (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/

Emily Fox talks with Molly Carney, executive director of Evergreen Treatment Services, about a new opioid treatment clinic opening this week in Renton.

J GRGRY, or Joe Gregory, one of the performers at Capitol Hill Block Party.

Capitol Hill's Block party is happening this weekend and Joe Gregory, also known as J GRGRY, will be one of many performers.

But this performance is especially important for Gregory. The Capitol Hill neighborhood made an impact on him when he was a teen in the 1990s.