drugs

As the drug-related death toll rises in the United States, communities are trying to open more treatment beds. But an ongoing labor shortage among drug treatment staff is slowing those efforts.

Screenshot from Frontline's new documentary 'Chasing Heroin.'
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Bill Radke talks with filmmaker Marcela Gaviria about her Frontline documentary "Chasing Heroin," which focuses on the Puget Sound region. King County alone saw a spike of 58 percent in fatal heroin overdoses from 2013 to 2014. Seattle's LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program aims to get addicts into drug treatment instead of jail.

A discarded hypodermic needle next to the train tracks outside the Yankee Diner on Shilshole Avenue. Neighbors have complained about drug use, waste and garbage they attribute to car campers and RVs in the neighborhood.
KUOW Photo/Jason Pagano

Seattle is experiencing a heroin epidemic. North Seattle residents say they find proof of that epidemic in parks and on sidewalks in the form of used, discarded needles. 

Mike Cuadra is a member of the North Precinct Advisory Council, a coalition of community groups and businesses from North Seattle neighborhoods. He's seen a rise in the number of needles littering his neighborhood over the past two years. 

"It's scary. I think people are frightened and angry," Cuadra said. 

Cathy Fennelly tried to save her son from heroin addiction.

For eight years, she tried to help him get sober. She told him he couldn't come home unless he was in treatment. It tormented her, knowing that he might be sleeping on the streets, cold at night.

But nothing worked. In 2015, she found him dead from an overdose on her front step.

"No matter how many detoxes I put him in, no matter how many mental facilities; I emptied out my 401(k), I sold my jewelry," she says. "This will never get easier. Never."

For many people struggling with opioid use, a key to success in recovery is having support. Some are getting that support from an unlikely place: their health insurer.

Amanda Jean Andrade, who lives west of Boston in a halfway house for addiction recovery, has been drug- and alcohol-free since October. It's the longest she's been off such substances in a decade. She gives a lot of the credit for that to her case manager, Will — who works for her insurance company.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán had seen his name in headlines. He knew it graced the world's Most Wanted lists.

But it appears that the notorious drug kingpin wanted something more: He wanted his name in lights.

Sarah Jackson had quit abusing drugs and had been sober for six months when she found out she had hepatitis C.

"That was weeks of not sleeping and just constant tears," she says. "I had already put a lot of that behind me and had been moving forward with my life and this was just a major setback."

To get rid of the infection, her doctor prescribed Harvoni, one of the new generation of highly effective hepatitis C drugs. But Jackson never started the treatment because her insurance, Indiana's Medicaid, refused to pay for it.

The first sign something was wrong was when Sarah Shell lost 20 pounds. Then she started complaining that her legs were tired.

"She began having difficulty climbing stairs, and I just thought that she was — I hate to use the word — lazy," says Sarah's mother, Leigh Shell.

Then the teenager's eyes stopped moving. And she began vomiting out of the blue. Sarah had migraines and couldn't concentrate. Then she lost all the feeling in her hands, feet and legs.

Shilo Murphy at the People's Harm Reduction Alliance in Seattle's University District.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

Jeannie Yandel speaks with Shilo Murphy, executive director of the People's Harm Reduction Alliance, about his plan to start a safe consumption site for drug users in Seattle.  

Ericka Frodsham is one of 50 to 60 prostitutes who work on Aurora Avenue North, known as a track. This is one of two tracks where prostitutes work in the Seattle area. Photographer Mike Kane followed her one evening, separately from the story below.
KUOW Photo/Mike Kane

Why is there so much prostitution on Aurora Avenue in North Seattle? Beth Quintana, who lives in North Seattle near Aurora, asked KUOW’s Local Wonder project, so we sent reporter Posey Gruener to find out.

Opioids have a stranglehold on parts of the U.S. And where addictive pain medicines are the drug of choice, clinics for addiction treatment often follow.

Sometime these are doctor's offices where patients can get painkiller-replacement drugs, such as Subutex and Suboxone.

Cancer patients shopping on federal and state insurance marketplaces often find it difficult to determine whether their drugs are covered and how much they will pay for them, the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society says in a report that also calls on regulators to restrict how much insurers can charge patients for medications.

Prescription drug use is rising across the United States. More people are taking medications and they're taking more of them.

A study published Tuesday by researchers at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that 59 percent of adults used a prescription drug in a 30-day period. That's up from just 50 percent when the survey was last conducted a decade earlier.

With his ambulance sirens blaring, Edmund Hassan speeds to a home in South Boston after getting a call that someone there is unconscious. He's deputy superintendent of Boston Emergency Medical Services, and he suspects an opioid overdose. These days, he says, his workers administer Narcan, the drug that reverses that kind of overdose, roughly three times in every eight-hour shift.

Program manager Linda Kruger prepares for the opening of the Evergreen Treatment Service clinic in Hoquiam.
KUOW Photo/Elizabeth Jenkins

Ross Reynolds talks with Molly Carney, executive director of Evergreen Treatment Services, about a pilot program that will expand access for heroin and opioid treatment.

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