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“Where the Rubber Hits the Road”: Seattle Launches Heroin Task Force

March 15, 2016
On Tuesday, March 1, 2016, King County and the Seattle Mayor’s Office announced the formation of a new joint task force to combat opioid and heroin addiction.

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"Treating Heroin"By Stacey Jenkins

“This is where the rubber hits the road,” says task force member Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, a research scientist at the University of Washington who has been advocating for overdose prevention and increased treatment for over a decade.
“It’s a slow process,” he says. “We’ve created a state emergency response plan that’s been incredibly detailed, but stuff happens at the local level.”
Brad Finegood, co-founder of the task force and Assistant Division Director at the county’s behavioral health and recovery division, agrees. He says the task force will hopefully end the government’s “silo” style of addressing addiction. 
“This is a way we can get all the experts in one room and take a look at the existing resources we already have,” he says.   
The 32-member task force includes health and treatment providers, law enforcement, social service agencies, cities and the University of Washington. They are tasked with not just identifying possible solutions, but also implementing those solutions within a six-month timeframe. Finegood says there are three main goals to the task force, the first being an expansion of on-demand access to treatment.
“We’re looking at how to get treatment medications out onto the streets and into the hands of users and their loved ones,” he says. “We are especially focused on getting increased access to the homeless populations.”
Treatment medications like methadone, or buprenorphine, are only available through a doctor’s prescription, which requires a trip to an office or clinic. In addition to the homeless population, Banta-Green wants to see increased on-demand access to these medications in areas such as prisons and emergency rooms, where there are large addiction populations. He would also like to see more doctors prescribing treatment medications.
“We need to see more doctors seeing more patients,” he says. “I’m not talking about 200 more patients; I’m talking about ten or 20 more patients per doctor.”
The second goal of the task force is overdose prevention. Finegood says that King County has made some progress with naloxone, a drug that can be administered in an overdose to prevent death. Naloxone is now available at some pharmacies in Seattle without a prescription (see list of pharmacies).  Banta-Green wants to see mobile needle-exchange sites that can be accessed by addicts, especially the homeless population.
The task force’s third goal is addiction prevention. Young people are especially vulnerable to heroin addiction through accessing prescription opiates in medicine cabinets. The task force is looking at education opportunities in public schools, and hopes to incorporate materials in health classes.
“It’s not just educating kids, but parents as well,” says Finegood. “How many parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents have opiate medication in their homes that they’re not using? We need to educate the public about safe disposal practices.”
Banta-Green says that despite a decline, the numbers of teens abusing prescription opiates is shocking.
“When we started interviewing high schoolers in 2012, we asked how many of them have taken prescription opioids to get high in just the past month,” he says. “The results showed that eight to ten percent of them had said yes. That’s around three kids per class that have taken prescription opioids in just this past month to get high.”
The task force has six months to come up with recommendations they can implement right away. According to Banta-Green, the issue is not creating the recommendations, but simply getting the city and county’s blessing to implement them.
“We have the tools,” he says. “We simply need the political consensus, the funding and the resources to do it.”
To learn more about the heroin task force, visit the King County and City of Seattle websites. 


Made possible in part by

Stacey Jenkins

Stacey Jenkins is the managing producer of Spark Public. She is an Emmy-award winning producer who is passionate about pushing the boundaries of digital media and training the next generation of multimedia journalists. Stacey has been a Digital Content Producer at KCTS 9 for the past four years; her stories have been showcased locally on IN Close as well as nationally on SciTech Now and the PBS NewsHour's Art Beat. Stacey’s experience also includes working as a senior producer for KPTS, as an assistant media instructor and producer for Portland Community College and a TV news reporter for the CBC in Canada.

Fun Fact: Stacey’s guilty pleasures include over-the-top Halloween decor, eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can and Maroon 5’s “Sugar” video.

More stories by Stacey Jenkins

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Great article, I enjoyed reading your post on Narcan (Naloxone). I think this is great as it should help prevent many needless overdoses and deaths from happening. The addicted ones are apprehensive about getting help this would be a great asset to them as well. Naloxone is a bellwether for the addiction treatment system and those working within it! I've been doing research on Narcan addiction treatments and how it helps.Should anyone else be interested to see how this would help others here’s the page I looked at, this information can assist someone (friends and families) in choosing the best recovery treatments after being saved by Narcan.