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caption: Found in Seattle's Belltown area in 2008. 
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Found in Seattle's Belltown area in 2008.
Credit: Flickr photo/Elan Ruskin (CC BY-NC 2.0)

King County Heroin Deaths Up 58 Percent In 2014

A spike in deaths from heroin use in King County has alarmed health experts and prompted warnings that the trend will continue unless efforts to treat addiction are ramped up.

The report on drug trends from the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute says 156 people died with heroin in their systems in 2014, a 58 percent increase over the year before.

Caleb Banta-Green, a senior researcher at the institute and the report’s lead author, told KUOW’s Ross Reynolds that the spike is linked to crackdowns in how opiates are prescribed.

“Getting rid of opiate pain medicines doesn’t do anything about opiate addictions,” he said. “And if you can’t get Oxycontin or you can’t get Percocet or whatever, and you’re addicted to opiates, there’s plenty of heroin out there and it’s much cheaper and it’s widely available.”

Banta-Green said the deaths last year spanned all ages and were seen across King County. He called for big changes in how opiate addictions are treated.

“I expect these deaths to continue at this rate or increase unless we do some things that are quite radical,” he said. “They’re not radical in that they’re different from what we’re doing, but we need to scale them up hugely and quickly.”

That means better education so that users and the general public understand that opiate addiction “is a brain disease and that we have treatments for that brain disease.”

“Too often people think that this is a moral problem that a person started by choice, they should be able to stop by choice,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way. … Opiate addiction is a disease of losing your free will.”

He said treatment options should be expanded dramatically, so that if a person wants help for an opiate addiction, they can get it that day, without having to wait. He also said the cost of treatment should be dealt with, because too many people who could benefit can’t afford it.

The ADAI suggests people visit to find out more about how to reverse an opiate overdose.

Other findings of the report:

  • Treatment admissions for heroin have more than doubled since 2010, exceeding other drugs and nearly equaling alcohol admissions.
  • Treatment admissions for alcohol use have fallen dramatically from a 2010 spike but are still above 2003 levels.
  • Deaths involving prescription opioids are at their lowest point in a decade.
  • 10 percent of high school seniors used marijuana on at least one-third of the days in the prior month.

Photo credit: “’Belltown drug market’ sign” by Elan Ruskin, (CC BY-NC 2.0)