In a community event hosted by King County Council member Kathy Lambert at the Snoqualmie Valley Alliance Church in Fall City, members of federal and local law enforcement and doctors discussed the opioid epidemic and how communities can respond to it.
“Folks, right now, let me just say this, we’re in a fight,” Ricardo Quintero, diversion program manager with the DEA’s Seattle division. “We have an opioid problem. It’s not just here in Washington, it’s everywhere.”
The officials spoke to a crowd of about 40 on the evening of April 9, answering audience questions that were submitted on cards beforehand.
Both doctors and officers from the King County Sheriff’s Department noted that over-prescribing of opioids and unused medication left in medicine cabinets is a large driver behind the current epidemic.
“A lot of the cases that we handle are kids who have access to medication,” said Maj. Robin Fenton with the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Arpan Waghray, system medical director of Behavioral Medicine at Swedish Medical Center, said that the United States accounts for 85 percent of the world’s opioid consumption.
“I think the low hanging fruit is disposing of medication that you’re not going to use,” said Dr. Steven P. Santos, medical director of Pain Services at Swedish.
Both doctors described how, in the 1990’s, the American medical community began a widespread practice of heavily prescribing opioids for patient pain. “Fast forward 20 years from the 1990’s and there’s been this huge influx of prescription opioids,” said Dr. Santos.
The King County Sheriff’s Department officers stressed that parents play a vital role, suggesting that they stay connected with their children and identify warning signs of addiction.
“Staying in touch and involved with your kids, knowing what’s going on, to me, is the biggest message,” said Maj. Fenton.
John McSwain, a captain at the King County Sheriff’s Department, noted significant drops in students’ grades as one of the signs that they may be suffering from addiction. “We need to look for drastic change.”
McSwain also noted that while most officers in the King County Sheriff’s Department don’t carry naloxone—an opioid overdose antidote—while on duty, the department is working on developing policy so that officers can be equipped with the drug. “We are fast moving in that direction,” he said.
Council member Lambert said that King County government wants to pursue setting up low-barrier on-demand opioid addiction treatment services, such as supplying buprenorphine medication. “That’s where the county wants to go … treatment on demand,” she said.
The county’s plan to site two Community Health Engagement Locations, also known as safe drug sites, was not brought up during the two hour event.