Wednesday, July 27, 2016

SNOHOMISH COUNTY- The Effort to Stem the Opioid/Heroin Epidemic

In recent months, local law enforcement agencies have been hosting public meetings to talk about the opioid/heroin epidemic and what they, along with local social service agencies, are doing to get the homeless off the streets, addicts into treatment, and help for the mentally ill.

One meeting, held last week on Tuesday, July 18, at the Snohomish County PUD auditorium, showcased a number of programs in Snohomish County and King County that try to accomplish these goals each with their own approaches.

Hosted by the City of Everett, the forum included representatives from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, Everett Police Department, City of Shoreline and King County.

One in five heroin deaths in the state of Washington occur in Snohomish County. During the period of 2002 to 2013 overdose deaths from heroin have quadrupled nationwide. Also, nationally, 3,600 people start abusing opioids each day.

Several speakers mentioned that addicts have to be ready for treatment before they will agree to go into a treatment plan. And having that attitude can be a fleeting mental condition. According to Sheriff Ty Trenary, “A referral and a waiting list does not work.” You have to take them right away to a treatment center.

The Everett Police Department, as well as the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, have introduced Law Enforcement Embedded Social Workers into their operations. The social workers team up with patrol officers and patrol deputies to make contact with homeless individuals. The social workers often add an element of trust that law enforcement personnel do not have with the homeless. Once trust is established, when someone who is addicted or is in need of mental health help is ready, the social worker can help to find the right treatment program for them.

The social worker makes the calls and the arrangements for the client. This can include a myriad of details to include stable housing, signing up for Medicaid, contacting family, as well as finding treatment. The social worker works through the bureaucracy for the client. A daunting task for the average person much less someone facing addiction or mental health problems.

Two other programs, under Everett’s Safe Streets Plan, include PAARI (Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative) and CHART (CHronic-Utilizer Alternative Response Team).

Under PAARI the police department partners with Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and Pioneer Human Services in Skagit County to provide short term detox to individuals who are seeking help to end their addiction habit before they are admitted into long-term recovery. For more information, go to and

CHART attempts to identify individuals who repeatedly use emergency rooms, crisis care facilities, legal services, and the criminal justice system, to develop a plan with the individual to find a way to break the cycle of the revolving door of jail or the ER. This article from My Everett News gives a good example of how CHART works:

For more information about the Everett Safe Streets Plan, go to

Members of two more programs discussed how they operated at a forum held at the Snohomish County PUD held on July 19.

The Shoreline Police Department (which contracts with the King County Sheriff’s Office for police services) has a program called RADAR (Response Awareness De-escalation and Referral). Under RADAR, police officers attempt to become aware of individuals with “behavioral health issues” to develop individualized response plans in coordination with the individual and their “circle of support” (family members, friends and caretakers). Police utilize their training, including crisis intervention training (CIT), to de-escalate any crisis situations. And finally, RADAR officers make an effort to connect the individuals with health care, mental health and fire services. For more about RADAR, go to

Seattle and King County have been conducting a pilot program since 2011 called LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) focusing on Belltown in Seattle and the Skyway area in King County. LEAD attempts to “divert low-level drug and prostitution offenders into community-based treatment and support services” before taking the individual to jail. The LEAD team coordinates closely with the community and with services including housing, health care, job training, treatment and mental health. LEAD involves a large team of government, community, and service organizations including the Seattle Police Department, King County Sheriff’s Office, King County Prosecutors Office, Washington State Department of Corrections, ACLU, Evergreen Treatment Services, and many other community groups. For more information about LEAD go to

Each of the programs discussed at the forum attempts to achieve a similar goal; prevent crime by helping at risk individuals break the revolving door through jail or emergency rooms. Each program has a different way that it approaches its effort. The common thread among the programs, whether they be from Snohomish County, Everett or King County, is local law enforcement agencies work closely with at risk individuals, social service agencies, and treatment and mental health professionals to help the individual achieve a stable, productive life.

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