King County task force unveils three-tiered plan to fight heroin, opiate problem

SEATTLE -- It’s an epidemic that is destroying families in this area, and now there’s a controversial new approach to the heroin and opioid problem in King County. A county-wide task force spent the last six months coming up with ideas and a list of recommendations.

Included in that list is a plan to provide safe rooms for drug users to get high while supervised.

The heroin and opiate problem affects families all over Western Washington.

“I would probably not be alive today,” said Thea Oliphan-Wells, who survived heroin addiction years ago.

Today, she was part of the task force put together by city and county leaders, trying to find new ways to confront the heroin and opioid problem.

“Having been there done that, I’m really am passionate about helping other people do better to be safer,” said Oliphant-Wells.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said the number of deaths from heroin overdoses in the county has tripled in recent years, from 49 fatalities in 2009 to 156 in 2014.

“Opiate, opioid and heroin use disorder is a medical condition that is treatable and should be treated with a public health and medical approach,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, with Public Health – Seattle and King County, and co-chair of the task force.

Constantine said this problem has spared no race, age, gender, neighborhood or income level in the region.

“It’s not a problem I can solve or my deputies can solve or any police officer can solve. It’s a community problem that has to be solved by everybody,” said John Urquhart, King County Sheriff.

The task force recommendations fall into three categories.

The first is primary prevention; which will increase public awareness and improve ways to identify opioid use.

The second is treatment expansion and enhancement. That will make treatment available immediately to those ready to receive help.

The final category is health and harm reduction. This would add more naloxone kits, which have already been used to save those having an overdose.

However, the controversy comes with the idea of creating a designated place for addicts to use drugs under supervision.

“If there are people who are going to die if we do not do this, then regardless of the political discomfort, I think it’s something we have to move forward on,” said Constantine.

Oliphant-Wells said she’s glad that people are talking about so that will make others aware of the problem.

“I absolutely believe in the recommendations that we put forth, and I do believe that any of the recommendations if we really follow through, lives will be saved,” added Oliphant-Wells.

The plan to implement the recommendations and where the funding will come from still needs to be discussed.

City leaders say there is an urgency to get things done because they say the heroin and opiate drug problem is only getting worse.