The Spotlight: This street team visits homeless encampments to treat medical conditions

Highly addictive fentanyl-laced pills called ‘Blues’ on the streets are everywhere now in the Pacific NW. The fake opiods smuggled into the U.S. by Mexican cartels are killing people, fueling crime and leaving families grieving over the loss of loved ones. Many of those addicted are living in unsheltered.

Elliott Bagwell with the Sea Mar Street Medicine Team along with staff from Multi-Care Chemical Dependence Specialists and Great Lakes Housing Case Managers visit the homeless encampments in Pierce County to treat a wide range of medical conditions.

He says they see fentanyl addiction on a daily basis but it’s just one of the problems they encounter.

"You’re dealing with a really transient population but I’ve definitely got to wear a lot of different hats. You’re talking about wound care, addition medicines, psychiatry, substance issues. You name it, all at once," said Bagwell who is a Nurse Practitioner.

He says the goal of their work is to reduce ER visits and bridge people back to brick and mortar clinics.

"I can’t necessarily fix homelessness but I can try to hold the fort medically and whether that’s an abscess or wound we are trying to treat or get some connected to services when they are ready, that’s important but by all means, the fentanyl issue has definitely been an issue," said Bagwell.

At one encampment situated between Fife and Puyallup, a woman named ‘DJ’ says she smokes the ‘blues’ for pain for her Lupus.

"They’re everywhere. Everywhere. It’s heroin and meth you can’t find anymore. I’ve seen lifelong heroin addicts walk away from the heroin and dive right into the blues," said DJ.

RELATED: DEA: Fake opioid pills laced with fentanyl are 'existential threat' to US

On the street, the pills are sold for as little as $2 when purchased in large quantities but she says the going rate is $10 for an individual pill.  DJ says she can make one last for several days and they do scare her.

"I don’t want to be one of the statistics out here. I’m just done with it, done with it. I need to get into a doctor about my lupus."

Like all the people they treat, Bagwell says they will work to get ‘DJ’ in to see a doctor.

"We offer to make appointments either with my clinic or the company I work for, whatever’s closest, and try to break down those barriers about transportation and whatever else people need.

Another problem is that even when addicts agree to go into treatment, they often relapse within 45 days once released unless they have a permanent place to stay.

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