Health dept. reports increase in Tacoma heroin deaths

A report released July 11 by Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department shows a dramatic increase in the use of, deaths from and problems associated with heroin and other opioid drugs, leading to a call for more medically-based treatment programs, including the use of methadone.

The Health Department’s Treatment Services program offers people in recovery a medically based approach to deal with their addiction. Use of opioids (heroin and prescription painkillers like oxycodone) can lead to negative consequences – such as overdoses, medical and mental health impacts, and crime – that put a social and financial burden on a community.

“People from all walks of life experience a transformation while in our program,” said Christina Abby, manager of the Health Department’s Treatment Services program. “They learn to manage their addiction and become productive professionals, students, and parents,” Abby said.

The report, produced by researchers at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI), highlights the epidemic facing Pierce County.

According to the report, 704 people died from opioid overdoses between 2005-2014 in Pierce County. While the death rate from prescription painkillers has declined since 2011, heroin deaths have surged upward. There were 52 heroin/opioid deaths in 2005, and 68 reported in 2014 in Pierce County.

3,424 people sought treatment for opioid addiction between 2002-2015 (129 in 2002, 438 in 2015).

Pierce County 10th graders reported that 3 percent had tried heroin and nearly 4.5 percent had used opioid pain medication to get high.

“A majority of heroin users surveyed in Pierce County in 2015 said they were initially hooked on opioid medications then turned to heroin, a cheaper more readily available method to achieve a high similar to opioid medications,” said Caleb Banta-Green, senior research scientist at the University of Washington’s ADAI. “With this report, we want to give the public a clear picture of the epidemic in Pierce County so everyone can work together to save lives,” Banta-Green said.

According to Banta-Green, medical research supports medically based treatment programs, such as the one at the Health Department that uses methadone to help support recovery.

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– Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department