Snohomish County working to fight opioid epidemic

EVERETT, Wash. -- Snohomish County is experiencing what it calls an opioid epidemic.

There are so many people being arrested for drug possession that it’s becoming as common as a speeding ticket.

The county sheriff’s office says deputies are arresting more people every day for having opioid drugs, such as heroin, and a county judge says he keeps addicts in jail as long as he can because he has no place to release them to that will offer them help.

The opioid drug problem across Snohomish County is obvious to Tom Davis, who works at Six Robblees Inc. in Everett.

“For us and the co-workers, it’s very frustrating because we see it every single day and right now it’s an epidemic,” said Davis.

It’s a problem that continues to grow and that the sheriff’s office sees firsthand.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in our property-related crimes, which we think are directly related to people that are addicted,” said  Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said that every year about 600 people in the state die from opioid overdoses.

“The magnitude of the problem is much bigger than one entity or agency can deal with,” said Somers.

At a roundtable discussion held on Monday, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., met with local leaders from Snohomish County to talk about solutions.

“What we’re really trying to do is change the discussion around opioid abuse and recovery, that addiction is not a moral failing, it’s something that needs treatment,” said Larsen.

Leaders say providing safe housing, treatment and resources for people to get clean is what they need, but they also need help from the federal government

“The jail deals with them when high and cleans them up for us. They come to court, we give them 30 days to 60 days, and back to jail they go. We’re just processing these things like speeding tickets, to tell you the truth,” said Snohomish County Judge Joe Wilson.

Community leaders are hopeful for a long-term solution.

“This is a complex problem that we have left unguarded for a long time and we’re in a deep hole and it’s going to take a while to get out of it,” added Trenary.

A Snohomish County proposition in the August election to help pay for more drug-treatment programs and put more deputies on the street is currently failing by about 300 votes.

Proposition 1 would have raised the sales tax to fund the program, but if it fails, it could mean budget cuts for the county.