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King County Executive
Dow Constantine


Heroin and opioid task force recommends strategy that focuses on prevention and increasing access to treatment

Summary

To confront the region’s growing and increasingly lethal heroin and opioid epidemic, a task force of experts recommends a comprehensive strategy that focuses on prevention and increasing access to treatment on demand.

Story

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Download the Heroin and Opiate Addiction Task Force recommendations report.

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A task force of experts from a wide range of disciplines delivered a comprehensive list of recommendations to confront a heroin and opioid epidemic that has caused a spike in addiction and fatal overdoses across the region.

The Heroin and Opioid Addiction Task Force—convened in March by King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, and Renton Mayor Denis Law recommends a strategy that focuses on prevention and increasing access to treatment on demand.

“The task force has provided us with a clear direction for confronting an epidemic that has spared no race, age, gender, neighborhood or income level in our region,” said Executive Constantine. “With a shared sense of purpose and urgency, we will reduce the number of people who suffer from heroin and opioid addiction to begin with, and increase access to treatment for those who need help.”

The number of deaths from heroin overdose in King County has tripled in recent years, from 49 fatalities in 2009 to 156 in 2014. More people in King County now enter detox for heroin than they do for alcohol, and starting at younger ages. The number of residents younger than 30 who enter detox nearly doubled between 2006 and 2014.

“We are in the midst of one of the largest heroin epidemics in our country’s history and is on the rise every community across the region,” said Mayor Murray. “The task force has provided thoughtful, concrete measures that can inform us on how to best prevent addiction, expand proven treatment services, and reduce the public health and safety risks we see on our streets.”

“The heroin epidemic has had a profound effect not just on our region, but across our country as a whole," said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. "It is critical that we not only move forward with meaningful solutions that support prevention and treatment, but that we remove the stigma surrounding addiction that often creates barriers to those seeking help.”

Already reducing the number of fatal overdoses

When the elected leaders convened the task force in March, they encouraged members to not wait until after they had completed their final report to move forward on actions that would immediately save lives. 

The task force has already made nearly 500 kits of naloxone—a life-saving nasal spray that can reverse the effects of heroin overdose—available to homeless service providers, first responders and law enforcement officers.

Now the staff at Public Health – Seattle & King County is starting a pilot project to make buprenorphine—medication that has proven to help people safely transition from heroin—more available.

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Download four infographics that describe the Heroin and Opiate Addiction Task Force recommendations.

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A comprehensive strategy that starts with prevention

The task force’s recommendations fall into the three categories:

Primary Prevention

  • Increase public awareness of effects of opioid use, including overdose and opioid-use disorder.
  • Promote safe storage and disposal of medications.
  • Work with schools and health-care providers to improve the screening practices and better identify opioid use.

Treatment Expansion and Enhancement

  • Make buprenorphine more accessible for people who have opiate-use disorders.
  • Develop treatment on demand for all types of substance-use disorders.
  • Increase treatment capacity so that it’s accessible when and where someone is ready to receive help.

Health and Harm Reduction

  • Continue to distribute more naloxone kits and making training available to homeless service providers, emergency responders and law enforcement officers.
  • Create a three-year pilot project that will include at least two locations where adults with substance-use disorders will have access to on-site services while safely consuming opioids or other substances under the supervision of trained healthcare providers.

A coordinated approach that connects people to the appropriate treatment

The nearly 40 members of the task force included representatives from Public Health, treatment providers, law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, public schools, Veteran’s Administration, nonprofit organizations, tribes, cities, Harborview Medical Center, Swedish Hospital, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office and others.

The goal is to create a coordinated response to substance-use disorders so that regardless of whom someone interacts with—whether it’s an emergency room nurse, police officer, emergency responder, treatment provider, teacher or parent—he or she will be connected to the appropriate treatment.


Relevant links


Quotes

The task force has provided us with a clear direction for confronting an epidemic that has spared no race, age, gender, neighborhood or income level in our region. With a shared sense of purpose and urgency, we will reduce the number of people who suffer from heroin and opioid addiction to begin with, and increase access to treatment for those who need help.

Dow Constantine, King County Executive

We are in the midst of one of the largest heroin epidemics in our country’s history and is on the rise every community across the region. The task force has provided thoughtful, concrete measures that can inform us on how to best prevent addiction, expand proven treatment services, and reduce the public health and safety risks we see on our streets.

Ed Murray, Seattle Mayor

The heroin epidemic has had a profound effect not just on our region, but across our country as a whole. It is critical that we not only move forward with meaningful solutions that support prevention and treatment, but that we remove the stigma surrounding addiction that often creates barriers to those seeking help.

Nancy Backus, Auburn Mayor

The heroin and opiate epidemic continues to cause preventable illnesses and deaths throughout our community and must be addressed using a public health approach like other chronic diseases. The Task Force recommendations will help improve the health of people who are suffering with this chronic medical condition and prevent opiate use disorders from developing in the first place.

Jeff Duchin, MD, Public Health Officer at Public Health $ndash; Seattle & King County

This Task Force did amazing amounts of work identifying concrete implementable solutions to the community problems caused by opioid use disorder. The recommendations that were put forth represent a comprehensive approach to addressing this epidemic. It has been an honor to serve as a co-chair, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue to implement solutions. Treatment works, people do recover, and wellness happens.

Brad Finegood, Assistant Division Director of Behavioral Health and Recovery at King County Department of Community and Human Services

For more information, contact:

Chad Lewis, Executive Office, 206-263-1250
Benton Strong, Seattle Mayor's Office, 206-771-0268


King County Executive
Dow Constantine
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Read the Executive's biography