AG requests federal assistance in Everett, Yakima and Spokane to address fentanyl crisis

In a three-year period from 2019 to 2021, Snohomish, Yakima and Spokane counties saw a higher level of overdose death rates than the state average, according to federal statistics.

Now state leaders are asking for federal assistance in the North Sound and two other cities in Washington to help address the fentanyl and drug crisis.

Everett Police Department has conducted more than 40 emphasis patrols in August on a variety of public safety issues. Tuesday, officers arrested several people during an emphasis patrol at the intersection of Casino Road and Evergreen Way, a high crime area for open drug use and possession.

"What we’re seeing on our streets today is unlike anything that I’ve seen in the 31 years that I’ve been involved in law enforcement," said Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman.

During the emphasis patrol, officers focused their efforts on theft, trespassing and public drug use based on crime data and several community complaints along Casino Road and Evergreen Way. 

Templeman said most of the criminal activity at the intersection is fueled by fentanyl and illicit use. He explained the majority of the people arrested during the latest emphasis patrol were publicly using illegal drugs. New laws are now active in Everett municipal code and Washington State Statute making open drug use and possession a gross misdemeanor.

"It certainly provides our officers on the street with another tool that’s available to address some of the constant complaints that we’re receiving, but it hasn’t necessarily changed the fact that we’ve been focusing on these types of quality-of-life crimes that have been occurring throughout our city even before the update to the state law," said Templeman.

With a crisis this big, Templeman said officers can’t arrest their way out of the fentanyl problem. 

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"If the community is looking just to law enforcement to solve the fentanyl crisis that we’re experiencing right now, I don’t think we’re going to see the level of success that we can as a community," said the police chief.

In an urgent request for help from the Washington Attorney General’s Office, Bob Ferguson asked the U.S. Attorney General to include Everett, Yakima and Spokane in a federal initiative combating drug related violence and overdose. It’s called "Operation Overdrive" where the federal agency uses crime and health statistics to identify criminal drug related hot spots, then devotes federal resources to reduce activity harmful to the community.

"Any additional resources that we can lean on to address this crisis, we’re going to accept those. Obviously, we want to know more about what that initiative involves and what it entails, and the resources that are going to be necessary at the local level to help support that," said Templeman.

Support would not stop there. Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced Wednesday new near-term strategies to address the drug crisis. This includes a Mobile Opioid Treatment Program to administer federally-approved medications, substance use and behavioral health therapies.

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"I lost my kid brother in March from a fentanyl overdose. I know how deadly these drugs are and the impacts they have on loved ones and our whole community," said Executive Somers. "In Snohomish County, we have the infrastructure and partnerships needed to address substance use disorder, and we’re acting with urgency to launch and expand local efforts. Ultimately, we need an influx of state and federal dollars to address the complex issues individuals, communities, and businesses are facing because of this drug crisis. We must do more before we lose more family members and neighbors."

Nurse practitioner Ipek Doles with Ideal Option, an addiction recovery clinic, said the county’s plan helps meet people where they’re at because not everyone has access to clinical treatment.

"On average, [we] have scheduled anywhere from 60 to 70 patients a day. Now, that doesn’t mean they all show up. And it’s hard for them to show up. I would say a good 20 patients every day do not show up to their appointments. And that’s either because they are homeless, they don’t have means of transportation, they just don’t have those resources to make it. And the environment that they’re continuously in, it sucks them in," said Doles.

Somers’ announcement of the new drug crisis strategies are part of an aggressive timeline developing and implementing resources in Snohomish County.