Snohomish County employs new fight against opioid epidemic

EVERETT, Wash. -- If the Legislature approves half a million dollars, Snohomish County would get a first of its kind 'diversion center' in the battle against the opioid epidemic.

“I feel hopeful in here for other addicts,” said one former addict.

It's not every day former addicts get to talk with the governor directly.

On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee toured a building, once a work-release facility, hoping to transform it into a diversion center. It consists of 2 stories equipped with a kitchen, bathrooms, laundry rooms and beds.

“This is the first of something we want to replicate. I am incredibly confident this will succeed,” Inslee said.

The idea is to get people off the streets and into detox in 24 hours. A one-stop shop where medical professionals give individualized help under one roof.

The governor is proposing millions to expand access to drugs like Suboxone for the treatment of opioid dependence,  saying abstinence doesn’t always work.

It's what's called Medically Assisted Treatment or MAT.

Supporters also say the center will give homeless people temporary shelter and allow some to get help instead of going to jail.

“The old days of a pair of handcuffs and a trip to the jail for someone who uses drugs no longer works,” Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said.

The governor says hospitals like the Western State psychiatric hospital is at full capacity so it’s up to counties to provide detox and mental health care more quickly.

“The solution to our state problem is in the counties,” Inslee said.

Julia McCracken, a former addict, says drugs similar to Suboxone helped her to get over her addiction to opioids and heroin.

“That initial being sick keeps you from going forward,” McCraken said.

But the group Hand Up Project, which is helping struggling addicts right now in Everett, say they don’t believe in using drugs like Suboxone. The group consists of former addicts helping other addicts.

“If they are on Suboxone or something, they aren’t showing the real emotions out of them,” Chief Operations Officer Robert Smiley said.

“For me, it felt like trading one addiction for another,” Mellissa Campbell said.

Campbell, who is getting help from the Hand Up Project, says she is choosing abstinence because she'll be better off in the long term.

A difference in approach but the Hand Up Project says they still support the diversion center.

“The center is a blessing,” Smiley said.

Because anything is better than living to get high on the streets.

“You get to the point where you don’t care if you die you would rather die I know I got to that point,” McCraken said.

The county says people will be able to choose between abstinence or medication.

The facility will house 44 people at one time and is expected to help about 3000 people per year.

The average stay at the diversion center will be 15 days; after that point, the county will continue to work with the individuals providing in patient or outpatient care.

The Legislature is expected to approve the half a million dollars needed to get the pilot program running for the first year. After that, the county will have to pay $1.5 million per year to keep the facility running.