Recent Capitol Hill heroin ODs part of larger trend

Cal Anderson's bathroom is such a popular place to shoot up that the parks department uses lighting that makes it more difficult for a user to find a vein (Image: CHS)

Cal Anderson’s bathroom has been such a popular place to shoot up that the parks department experimented with lighting inside that makes it more difficult for a user to find a vein (Image: CHS)

Thursday night at 5:55 PM, a 911 caller reported that one of a group of three men seen using needles to inject drugs in an alley in the 500 block of E Republican was overdosing. It’s been a busy summer of similar anecdotes around Capitol Hill. Seattle Fire Department medics responded to a heroin overdose call earlier in July when two men in their early twenties had both overdosed while sitting in a van at 11th and Pine. A week before just a few blocks away medics responded to two other heroin overdoses within 24 hours of each other.

The exact number of heroin overdoses so far this summer is hard to pin down, but a spokesperson at the Seattle Fire Department said medic units have seen a rise in heroin related calls in Capitol Hill. And it is, of course, not only happening in alleys or the Cal Anderson bathroom. Medics have also been called to ODs in apartment buildings and single family residences on the Hill. The uptick in overdoses in the neighborhood follows a trend of increased ODs of people under 30 in Seattle and around the rest of the state. Experts say more younger users and stronger drugs are partially to blame.

Shilo Murphy, who runs the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance needle exchange in the University District, said there is a “perfect storm” of factors playing into the steady rise in overdoses.

First, the state has cracked down on pain clinics and strengthened regulations on opiate-based pain killers causing more prescription addicts to seek out heroin as a substitute. A recently altered OxyCotin formula has also made it more difficult to snort the drug, common among prescription addicts.

Murphy said he is also seeing an increasing number of inexperienced teens who are injecting heroin instead of snorting or smoking the drug.

And thirdly, the heroin is getting stronger. Murphy said there are three different types of heroin on the street today: black tar, a red-colored tar, and a brown powder — the latter he says is being mixed with other opiates to form a dangerous cocktail. Older heroin users, Murphy said, are not as experienced with the powder which has led to more overdoses as well.

“The strong stuff is becoming more readily available,”  Murphy told CHS.

At this point, Hill overdoses apparently haven’t risen as high as the the spike CHS reported in March 2012 when King County was forced to issue a public warning about the drug. Meanwhile, as recently as December 2012, a CHS examination of recent SPD incidents involving drug crimes showed meth to be the criminal drug of choice 5 to 1 over the more expensive — and more deadly — heroin.

Earlier this summer, a University of Washington study showed a rise in overdoses throughout the state, especially among people under 30 in Seattle. Among 18-29 year-olds, heroin abuse treatment was the most commonly sought among any other substance, including alcohol.

The report was authored by heroin abuse expert Dr. Caleb Banta-Green at the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. Green also runs the website stopoverdose.org

The number of opiate deaths have nearly doubled in the last decade, according to the report. In 2009 Seattle had 49 heroin related deaths. In 2012 the number climbed to 84 .

To help curb overdose deaths, Washington has a good Samaritan law that prevents heroin users from being arrested for possession when they call 911 to report an overdose.

Heroin users who have overdosed have a much higher chance of surviving if they are treated with the opioid-inhibitor known as naloxone. In the case of four recent overdoses on Capitol Hill, each user was given naloxone by medics. Each person survived the ordeal.

King County Health runs a naloxone training and distribution program, as does the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance. Murphy said there were more than 500 doses administered from his program alone. However, he said the drug is not nearly as available as it should be.

“It costs $1 for naloxone. Is a life worth $1? If you think so you should be pushing for naloxone to be available everywhere,” he said. “If you don’t think so, do nothing, which is what we’re doing today.”

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38 thoughts on “Recent Capitol Hill heroin ODs part of larger trend

    • You can live the typical American lifestyle and have a heart attack one day. It doesn’t mean the people around you shouldn’t call 911.

      • So engaging in the perfectly lawful and ordinary activity of eating a donut is the equivalent of shooting smack, which is illegal?

      • What does it matter? If you witness someone having a medical emergency of any kind, you should probably try to save their life. Calling 911 being the easiest way to do that.

        I hope you’re never in a position where you need serious medical attention and bystanders determine you aren’t worth saving.

      • Exactly, Pod. I would certainly call 911 if I saw someone overdosing. But often this happens when they are alone, and they are found dead later.

  1. I wish I could say I care. But dealing with these gangs every morning walking to work is a hard obstacle to giving a s**t

    • I hear you but I know from some unfortunate first hand experiences that this isn’t only street punks and homeless people in the park. Interesting to learn about some of the causes but missing some of the solutions.

      • What about hard working, honest, tax payers who arent shooting up heroin in the park? Why should their use and enjoyment of a neighborhood public park be pushed aside in favor of junkies?

      • What about watching people nearly dying? I’m sorry but doing this shit in public is ridiculous. Its traumatizing enough walking through a park watching people stick each other with needles but its another thing watching their eyes roll back to white and having them shake too their death on the playground in front of you. Its not about the kids it’s about the general public. This is just one more thing in the mounting problem remember last year when people were “falling” to their death on passing cars down I-5 I do! When is enough enough? We need to act like everyday is Wednesday and take out the freaking trash!!!!

  2. In Washington State, both people at risk of having an opiate (heroin, painkillers) overdose and their friends and family are eligible to get a naloxone prescription. If you are concerned about yourself or someone close to you, and would like to be trained in overdose response with naloxone you can go to:

    Kelley-Ross Pharmacy at the Polyclinic (7th and Marion)

    Robert Clewis Center (4th and Blanchard)

    Peoples Harm Reduction Alliance (in the alley behind the Post Office at 43rd and the Ave)

  3. I really struggle with this… As a person who tries to be compassionate, I know users aren’t soulless monsters–they are people who fell down a rabbit hole and are addicted to a scary, powerful substance.

    As a taxpayer and Cap Hill resident, I don’t feel safe anymore and I hate that such a great neighborhood is being plagued by this. I see drug deals in front of my apt building. Someone in my building recent’y OD-ed. While walking down Pike the other day, someone asked me if i had black tar. No i do not have fucking black tar! Statistics about rate of drug use and correspond increases in crime are clear as day. No. me. gusta.

    This NYT article gives context into a city in Maine that’s having the same problem:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/19/us/heroin-in-new-england-more-abundant-and-deadly.html?pagewanted=all

  4. I understand and identify with everyone commenting who hates all the drugs in the neighborhood and the violence they bring–I don’t like it either. I even get tired of the legal drugs like marijuana and booze. That said, most people who have these problems made one or two bad decisions and then are in the grip of an addiction. They can’t help themselves. I still don’t want my fellow human beings to die, and I’m glad that people are being trained to help with overdoses. I also don’t understand why places like the bathrooms at Cal Anderson don’t install the lights like they have in the downtown library bathrooms–the color of the light makes veins hard to see, therefore discouraging people shooting up in the bathrooms.

  5. honestly i just have no compassion for drug addicts. life is really fucking hard and everyone in the entire world knows that heroin kills.

    • Thank you for taking some time out of your day to tell us about you.

      I for one, and so glad you cleared that up.

      As for that people dying in the park, I feel far more for them than I do some 20-something trust fund kid missing soccer practice.

      Yes, life is hard, but it’s harder for some than others, and luck plays a far greater role in our life lots than most of us want to believe or admit.

      Last but not least, how about the irony in the Rx crackdown? We were all told that it was done to save lives, and it’s done just the opposite.

      All hail the government and its War on Some Drugs When Used By Certain People, which we have allowed to flourish for decades. I’m not sure that “honest taxpayers” deserve any better than they are currently getting.

      This is your war, and these are what the casualties look like.

      Letting someone else do the dirty work of dealing with these people hasn’t slowed this supposed “war”, so maybe it is time for the privileged to see it up close and personal.

      Nobody complains when the public streets on Capitol Hill are closed off so that private companies can stage concerts, but oh my God let some poor person delay their Ultimate Frisbee game by 10 minutes, and something must be done!

  6. Could someone who knows posts the symptoms of an overdose? If I was walking by and saw someone overdosing in a car or at the park I don’t know if I’d know that it was happening–I’d be glad to call 911 in such a case but as a non-user I do not know what an overdose looks like.

  7. Vancouver has a supervised injection site (Insite) that’s greatly reduced overdoses and drug-related deaths there. We aren’t going to stop the demand and distribution, but can get them off the streets and set a path from there.

      • Your comment implies that supervised injection sites somehow “deter” use of dangerous drugs. They do not….they make it easier for addicts to continue their addiction.

      • The point of Insite is safety. It also serves as a connection to health and counseling services, to which they’ve referred thousands. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that the current strategy of prevention and incarceration will somehow yield results after decades of failure. We need to be innovative, and Insite is a model to look at.

      • If such places were truly effective at getting addicts into treatment, I would be all for them…..but I’m skeptical. What percentage of the “clients” actually end up in an effective treatment program? Of those, how many stay clean&sober over an extended period of time?

      • “Referrals” just means that the client was given a card with a name and phone number on it. How many of them actually ended up being evaluated? How many then got into a long-term treatment program? Of those, how many remained clean & sober?

      • Did you read the page I linked you to? There’s more information there. Check out their website while you’re at it. You’ll find much more information than I can offer you.

      • Yet there’s three liquor stores in every neighborhood and five fast-food restaurants.

        You don’t care about addicts, you care about you.

        Problem is, you’re in a large city now, and unlike where you probably moved here from, most people aren’t like you.

        Instead of willing such people to death, perhaps think of someone other than yourself?

        Personally, I’d take “addicts” over self-riteous Bellevue transplants any day. The former are a pain to deal with no doubt, but at least we’re not building sterile, aluminum sided dormitories on every corner for the addicts and their dogs to live in, not to mention the associated dog shit they bring which covers the lawn at Cal Anderson.

  8. Thank you Fuji Apples and to the person who says they have no compassion because everyone knows that heroin kills I would say: 1) Lots of people don’t know the most basic things–plenty of people out there think you can get pregnant from toilets or don’t know who is president. There are no universally known facts. Even educated people might not know if they have been sheltered 2) Young people often don’t think anything can kill them. Many people know cigarettes kill but still many people smoke 3) Sometimes people are in such a bad place they think that life is not worth anything and so they may as well make themselves feel better and so what if it kills them? All of these people may be hurting, but none of them deserves to die. And lest you think this is the voice of a drug addict speaking, think again. I have never tried drugs in my life, but I have met some people who have made the wrong choices. They were bad choices. They were not bad people.

  9. One group of people I have no compassion for is the scum who sell heroin, and who I’m sure know full well what it does to people. The users? They are the ones who deserve compassion and a chance to get clean. But they have to be willing to help themselves as well. If they’re not, they’re going to be goners eventually.

    • I was just stating that it doesn’t matter whether addicts are “asking for it.” Overdose deaths are largely preventable. Actually most happen in the presence of other people.

  10. Every single person posting here is addicted to SOMETHING. And that addiction comes from the same part in everyone’s brains. It’s either food, or alcohol, or coffee, sex, gaming, weed etc. Be happy your addiction isn’t as deadly as heroin.

    Having said that, most people’s addictions don’t cause parks to be overrun with people desperate to get a fix. The addiction is one thing; the violence and crime that sprouts from those addictions is another. You can feel sympathy for the addict and still hate what the addict does to people around him as a result of that addiction. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

    The world is full of alcoholic parents that ignore their kids for decades. They are not much different than a junkie wandering Cal Anderson park. Both harm others and themselves.

  11. Cal Anderson has had the same type of people hanging around getting high for 10 years+ The problem isn’t the addict who is sick with the disease of addiction, or the dealers who are without other income because of the bad economy and poor education, it is the fact that our healthcare and justice systems are broken. Arresting and judging addicts makes it harder on them to get healthy again. Providing education and resources to help our ill is the only way to reduce the harm we are seeing.

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