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Sequim can’t kick narcotics addiction
Sequim continues to battle its own demons.
In recent weeks, a methamphetamine ring was busted in Blyn and two Sequim men died from suspected heroin overdoses.
While these cases are not connected directly, they are the most recent public examples of Sequim and Clallam County’s continuing use and distribution of narcotics like meth, cocaine and heroin.
“On a national level, this is a societal ill,” said Sequim Police Chief Bill Dickinson.
The same can be said locally.
Last year, Clallam County came close to its standard as being one of Washington’s counties with the most opiate deaths. It saw at least 13-18 opiate-related deaths from 2000-2011.
Clallam County Coroner’s Office, while not receiving all of Clallam’s deaths, reports they tallied five deaths related to methamphetamine and heroin in 2013 and 16 total deaths related to drugs.
Of those 16 drug-related deaths, 12 were accidental, three suicides and one unknown.
Local law enforcement remained busy on the drug scene last year, too. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office reported 49 cases of methamphetamine and 32 heroin cases with five cases involving both heroin and methamphetamine.
In the City of Sequim, police arrested 14 individuals for delivery of methamphetamine, five people for heroin delivery and they reported to one non-fatal narcotics overdose.
The city also saw a rise in drug-related cases go up from 84 in 2012 to 107 in 2013.
A common link, Dickinson said, is drug abuse and property crime.
“People who are using must have a good job or result to stealing to support their addiction,” Dickinson said. “Traditionally, the ones who we arrest for property crimes have addiction issues. Once addicted, they have to keep supporting it. That usually means victimizing.”
Burglaries in the city went up from 52 cases in 2012 to 60 in 2013 and larceny rose from 116 to 140, which Dickinson said is driven by a higher availability of hard liquor.
Sequim’s two suspected heroin death overdoses were investigated on Jan. 21 and Feb. 8 by Sequim Police.
Dickinson said the incidents might have seen different results if the victims had been with other people who could have called 9-1-1.
Bryan Swanberg, medical safety officer for Clallam County Fire District 3, said they issued Narcan, a drug countering opiate overdose, 43 times in 2013 with seven of those unresponsive people confirmed due to some sort of drug overdose.
Swanberg said they administer enough Narcan to slowly wake a patient up because if they administer too much they can become nauseated and vomit possibly blocking the airway.
A patient also can awaken and become violent, he said.
The call for help is key to helping in a drug overdose, law enforcement officials agreed. A heroin overdose, for example, can start right after injecting the drug by stopping the respiratory system and quickly all of the body’s other systems. Too long without oxygen leads to brain damage thus making resuscitation harder.
Ron Sukert, chief correction deputy for Clallam County Correction Facility, said they began doing basic Narcan education about eight months ago for heroin abusers in jail. He said those receiving the education indicate they are going to use heroin again after they are released.
The jail’s nurse provides the criminals information on Narcan and a physician can offer to write a prescription of Narcan but the criminal must pay for it at a pharmacy.
Sukert said the idea was brought to him due to a surge of heroin abuse in the community and it seemed like an opportunity to prevent another heroin overdose death.
“There’s no safe way to use (drugs), just a safe way to prevent to a death,” he said.
Rise and fall
In his nearly 22-years with Sequim Police, Detective Sgt. Sean Madison, said the narcotics and drugs abuse problem is the worst it’s ever been and it’s continuing to rise.
“It’s not because we aren’t trying. There’s no such thing as letting someone walk with possession of dope,” Madison said.
“There’s a number of things working against us like not having significant enough penalties, not a lot of money to prosecute these guys and not a lot of money for treatment.”
The uptick in heroin use continues to rise, Madison said, due to doctors’ restrictions on prescriptions for opiate narcotic painkillers.
“It just turned those people onto heroin which is far, far more dangerous,” he said.
Coming from Mexico, heroin’s price remains comparable to methamphetamine and cocaine but heroin’s dosages are smaller, Madison said.
“The problem is always the purity of it. With the past two heroin overdose deaths, they were long-term users and they knew what they were using, which was something far more potent than what they were used to,” he said.
“The significant thing is that most heroin addicts have a good sense of their tolerance and dose. It can increase overtime but the fact that you’re seeing this many heroin overdoses means they are still new enough to it or people getting a hold of bad dope (more pure).”
Syringe use up
As narcotics usage rises in the county so has usage at the Clallam County Syringe Exchange.
The program intended to help prevent spreading HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C and the discarding of contaminated needles, saw a big bump from 127,594 needles exchanged in 2012 to 233,330 in 2013. A few years prior, Clallam exchanged 60,850 needles in 2008.
Dr. Tom Locke, Clallam and Jefferson County health officer, said the increase could be due to a mixture of things.
“It’s possible that some people had been purchasing needles from pharmacies, which is perfectly legal and at the discretion of pharmacists. We received some information that some pharmacists have become more restrictive for selling syringes,” Locke said.
“The most concerning explanation could be the rate of IV drug use is going up dramatically.”
Locke said they’ve seen other counties with syringe exchange increases but not by this much.
The plan to slow the rapid increase of syringe use is still to be determined, Locke said.
“Over the last year with our Community Health Improvement plan, we have six health priorities and one of them involves substance issues priorities. What we hope to do is convene a multi-agency task force to try to slow rate of increase and address the issues,” Locke said.
“Unfortunately it’s a difficult issue to address. No single agency can effectively deal with it but each one working together can combine and coordinate efforts. What you hope for is to get a bigger effect.”
In the county health department, he said their efforts remain focused on the syringe exchange.
He said another advantage to it is having face-to-face interaction with drug users and providing them resources like counselors and more opportunities to receive treatment.
Locke addresses this issue at the next Clallam County Board of Health meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, in the Clallam County Courthouse.
Solutions and enforcement
As of late last year, the City of Sequim was crying foul when it came to prosecuting certain crimes in Clallam County, particularly property crimes.
Rather than being charged as felonies, defendants with felony drug possession charges were coming back to Sequim and other cities at their cost and being charged as misdemeanors due to staffing levels and costs in the Clallam County Prosecutor’s Office.
But the attitude among law enforcement and methodology in the prosecutor’s office has seemed to change as new Prosecuting Attorney William Payne has opted to push hard on drug possession and property crimes.
Payne said he recognizes that there is a trend of heroin addiction nationwide which has grown significantly and is represented in the county.
His first step as prosecutor was to hire another felony deputy, bringing the total to four. He then set the precedent to charge all felony drug possession of controlled substance cases.
“We’re charging all of them and referring more to drug court and we’re doing faster. Drug court used to be 60 days to file now it’s the same day,” Payne said.
He’s also made the intent to charge all theft and burglary cases since they’ve increased in recent years as well.
If a defendant doesn’t want help through drug court, Payne said they want to prosecute and convict the person as soon as possible, which can take awhile as they build a case for the defendant to go to prison.
“As we charge more of those cases, it is more costs for jail time but before people were just getting out,” Payne said. “Hopefully what happens is that the person will agree to go to drug court, plead guilty and go to treatment.”
Madison said treatment has to be a component in anything law enforcement does in drug enforcement.
“We absolutely have to pay to hold people accountable. If you don’t have that in your community property crimes, identity thefts, forgeries go through the roofs,” he said.
“We have to hold them legally accountable and get them treatment. It doesn’t work all the time but if it works 30 percent of the time, I’ll take it.”
Another component to stopping the drug problem is intervention early on.
Dickinson said the recently approved Sequim school resource officer can help build awareness about drug abuse and its effects along with other issues like alcohol abuse and violence.
“We want to have discussions with kids because if they are getting it at home, then we are supporting what they are hearing. If they’re not, then we’re giving them that talk,” Dickinson said. “(The officer) also can help with the dropout rate. If we can increase the success rate in school, then hopefully with their success in life as an adult and discourage them from using drugs later.”