Heroin overdoses, deaths reach epidemic levels in Snohomish County, officials say

EVERETT -- Deaths attributed to heroin and prescription opioid use have reached epidemic levels in Snohomish County, health officials said, with one out of every five deaths attributed to heroin overdose in the state occurring in the area.

In 2013, heroin and prescription opioid overdoses represented two-thirds of the 130 accidental overdose deaths in Snohomish County, health officials said. Though the county makes up only about 1/10 of the state's population, it accounted for about 1/5 of the state's overdose deaths.

“Opioid use, and heroin in particular, have become a persistent problem in Snohomish County,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “This report demonstrates the need for multiple partners to intervene at targeted points.

Heroin use across the country is rising while other drug usage continues to fall, many have reported. As prescription opioids like oxycodone or hydrocodone were more tightly regulated beginning in 2008, Goldbaum said, drug users found heroin as a potent and inexpensive replacement.

Increased awareness of the Good Samaritan Law, additional detoxification capacity, and the evaluation of alternatives to incarceration are some of the ways county officials can begin to address this problem, health officials said.

Another is through the distribution of overdose reversal kits containing naloxone, also known as Narcan, health officials said. Currently available at four pharmacies within the county, the Snohomish County Health District is rolling out a pilot program to distribute naloxone kits at the needle exchange sites in North Everett and Tulalip.