The Opioid Crisis: Snohomish County providing free needle-disposal kits to public

EVERETT, Wash. --  A new push is underway to tackle a visible and dangerous part of the opioid problem in Snohomish County.

One in six of Washington’s opioid overdose deaths occur in Snohomish County, even though the county only makes up 10 percent of the state’s population

As a result, used needles litter the streets, parks, and neighborhoods.

The health district, sheriff’s office and cities in Snohomish County have all teamed up to give people the access to free needle-cleanup kits.

A sign posted outside a business last year calling Everett “Tweakerville” was an in-your-face response to a serious problem in Snohomish County.

“We’re about 10% of the state’s population but about 18% of the deaths of the overdoses,” said Snohomish Health District Administrator Jefferson Ketchel.

So the Snohomish County Health District, along with law enforcement and city leaders, are working to tackle the opioid problem.

“We can’t arrest ourselves out of this crisis. We can’t just put people in emergency rooms and expect health care to solve this for us,” said Ketchel.

Leaders in the county have held training classes on how to administer the Narcan nasal spray that fights against an opioid overdose, keeping more people alive, and are working to tackle another visible part of the problem: needles.

“When I take the kids to the park, I never would’ve thought I needed to check for something like that,” said Everett mom Tia Helmus.

Since September, the health district has given out 800 needle-disposal kits. Starting Wednesday, the district will provide free needle-disposal kits in 12 locations; however, you can only dispose of the needles at five locations.

“Needle box, and tongs and gloves and safety glasses,” said Ketchel, listing the contents of the free kits.

This doesn’t address the cycle of addiction that fuels the littering of used needles.

“My sense is we don’t have enough treatment, and new investments by the federal government and others could go a long way in providing the new treatment capacities in Snohomish County,” said Ketchel.

More treatment and detox centers could be on the horizon. But first, health officials are trying to get a headcount on how many people are addicted or misusing opioids. The next step, get into the schools and push a prevention curriculum.

“Trying to prevent a new generation of addiction,” said Ketchel.

Snohomish Health District officials are looking closely at Sen. Patty Murray’s bill, which was just approved by a Senate committee, hoping that it would mean more funding for them to expand current programs and begin new outreach.

There are now eleven locations where free cleanup kits can be picked up during normal business hours:

    Through a partnership with Snohomish County’s Solid Waste Division and the Snohomish Health District, approved sharps containers with the Snohomish Overdose Prevention stickers can be returned to the following locations during normal business hours to: