In 2015, deaths directly linked to heroin use rose by an astounding 58 percent in the greater Seattle area.
In 2016, reports surfaced noting that fatalities resulting from opioid (which is a class of substances that includes heroin and prescription painkillers) overdoses are the number one cause of accidental death in Washington and throughout the rest of America, surpassing car accidents.
On January 1, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) which stated that, since 2000, “the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids” in the United States.
The CDC specified these numbers by reporting that between 2000 and 2015, “more than half a million people died from drug overdoses.” And, tragically, “91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.”
There are a number of reasons that have been attributed to the steady increase in opioid abuse, but the predominant factor is believed to lie in the fact that an immense amount of opioid painkillers are being prescribed within the U.S. The prescribing of these medications can have a trickle-down effect that can elicit many negative consequences, the worst of such being overdoses.
In April of 2012, The Seattle Times published an article reporting that, historically, the types of prescription painkillers that are currently being prescribed in massive quantities were once reserved for providing postoperative relief, managing symptoms of cancer, or as part of end-of-life care.
Yet, within the past 15 years or so, these powerful prescription medications began to be used for a number of additional conditions, including treating and managing pain. At the time, pain experts reportedly believed that the risk of developing an addiction to these medications was minimal. However, this has proven to be far from the truth.
As the popularity of these medications grew, physicians began to prescribe them to patients with seemingly rapid speed and with consistently increasing frequency. As such, the medications became more widely available and therefore more likely to be abused. Individuals would then develop a tolerance to the medications, requiring them to consume greater quantities. In these instances, they would either seek out more of the medication from their physicians or from other various physicians (known as “doctor shopping”) or through illicit means.
As these behaviors came to light, government agencies began to take steps in order to fight back against the prevalence of opioid prescriptions, limiting both the amount of medications that any one physician can prescribe, as well as creating a database where pharmacies and physicians can search to ensure that an individual is not receiving too much of a medication, or receiving the same medication from more than one doctor.
While putting these kinds of initiatives into effect can be immensely beneficial, they have, unfortunately, also elicited some negative consequences. With stricter limitations being implemented, many opioid-dependent individuals are no longer able to obtain their prescription painkillers. In order to avoid experiencing a period of withdrawal, many of these individuals have turned to using heroin, as it offers similar effects to those of painkillers, yet is cheaper – and often easier – to acquire.
Taking all of these factors into account, officials in King County are stepping forward to help bring change to Seattle and its surrounding communities. Lynn Thompson reported in a March 2016 article for The Seattle Times that King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray have initiated a task force that will be “charged with finding ways to expand treatment, with a goal of providing it on demand.”
By placing the need for treatment at the forefront of residents’ minds in King County, it is hoped that the stigma associated with addiction will be reduced, more individuals will seek and receive the care that they need, and this tragic epidemic can come to an end.
Treatment centers in Tukwila, Seattle, and throughout the rest of Washington are available to help individuals in need of treatment find the care that can ultimately save their lives.