Where did deadly cocaine in Capitol Hill overdoses come from?

The Seattle Police Department is winding down the investigation of two women who died on Capitol Hill after snorting chemical-laced cocaine, but a search for the source of the drugs could expand if similar overdoses continue.

Sara Valenzuela, 36, and Maria Paschell, 49, were found dead inside a Capitol Hill apartment on May 30th. According to police, evidence indicated the women had been dead for about two days and had snorted cocaine before they died.

While the cause of the deaths remains pending toxicology reports, King County Public Health issued a warning that cocaine found in the apartment may have been laced with acetylfentanyl — a chemical that is five times stronger than heroin and stronger than prescription fentanyl. Continue reading

Rising price of heroin overdose antidote won’t affect SPD pilot program

Even with the antidote, overdoses continue to plague the city and East Precinct. Wednesday night, police and fire responded to a reported double overdose on Lakeview Blvd. We're checking for more details on the incident (Image: CHS)

Even with the antidote, overdoses continue to plague the city and East Precinct. Wednesday night, police and fire responded to a reported overdose on Lakeview Blvd. We’re checking for more details on the incident.  (Image: CHS)

A price spike for a life-saving drug won’t hamper an important Seattle Police pilot program. The price of the heroin overdose antidote naloxone has “risen as much as 17-fold in the past two years” but SPD says the price increase will not affect its ongoing pilot program.

“Right now it is not expected to impact us,” a SPD spokesperson told CHS, saying that the supply of naloxone needed for the pilot was purchased before the price increase occurred.

SPD announced the pilot in March as a way to combat the all-too-frequent heroin overdoses on Capitol Hill. As part of the 6-8 month pilot, 60 bike officers carry nasal naloxone and administer the drug when they encounter someone suffering from an opioid overdose. The officers stay with the person until medics arrive.

The funding for the pilot came in part from The Marah Project, a non-profit named after former Capitol Hill resident Marah Williams. Williams died of a heroin overdose in 2012, when she was 19 years old.

While the pilot program will not be affected by the price increase, the SPD spokesperson said that it was too early to tell whether the price increase would impact the implementation of a more extensive program after the pilot has been reviewed.

So far, SPD says that the drug has been deployed six times and all deployments have been successful. According to the SPD blotter, the most recent deployment wasthree weeks ago when two officers administered naloxone to prevent a woman from overdosing near the Alaskan Way Viaduct. After nasal naloxone was administered, the woman’s breathing stabilized and she was transported to Harborview Medical Center.

How Capitol Hill can get a safe consumption site

syringe found outside my car in capitol hill

It has been nearly two months since local elected leaders announced the formation of a King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force to address the regional and national heroin epidemic, and Seattle leaders have talked of establishing safe consumption sites for drug users around the city. Could Capitol Hill — a neighborhood that experiences a high number of drug overdoses — get a safe consumption site?

Safe consumption sites, which would be a first for Seattle — let alone the United States — may end up getting the green light from county’s task force. Brad Finegood, co-chair of the heroin task force and assistant division director of the King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division, told CHS that the task force is considering safe consumption spaces and including them in their final set of recommendations that they will present to regional leaders later this year. The task force is made up law enforcement, representatives from the criminal justice system, public health and addiction experts, as well as homeless and drug policy reform advocates.

“There’s no other such facility that’s sanctioned and operating [in the U.S.],” said Finegood. “It’s definitely something that we are trying to be thorough in vetting.”

While alien to the United States, supervised drug consumption sites have a three-decade long history in other nations. The Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland opened what were then dubbed “Drug Consumption Rooms” or DCRs, back in the 80s and 90s to address public order issues associated with open-air drug use by providing addicts and users (mostly targeting users who inject) with low-threshold access to a supervised space to consume pre-obtained illicit drugs, clean equipment, emergency care in the case of overdoses (namely application of the heroin overdose antidote, Naloxone), and referrals to healthcare and drug treatment services if desired by the user. DCRs served as a public health response intending to prevent overdose deaths, reduce disease transmission, and connect addicts with health and drug treatment services. Spain, Norway have since then joined the pack and opened their own DCRs (a safe injection site has also opened in Sydney, Australia), and last year, France moved forward with opening pilot DCR’s in three cities.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the availability of safer injecting facilities increases drug use or frequency of injecting. These services facilitate rather than delay treatment entry and do not result in higher rates of local drug-related crime,” a summary report of DCR implementation in Europe by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction reads.

Closer to home in Vancouver, Canada, health workers opened Insite — North America’s first safe injection site — in the city’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood back in 2003 to address concentrated public drug use and high HIV infection rates with a harm-reduction, public health-minded approach. And, after more than a decade in operation and more than 30 independent studies on the impacts of Insite, the research indicates that fatal overdoses in the neighborhood went down along with drug-related crime and public order in the neighborhood improved. Use of HIV-risk behaviors like syringe sharing declined alongside neighborhood HIV infection rates, and intake at local drug detox treatment facilities went up, and there was no noticeably increase in drug use or drug trafficking in the area.

In addition, Insite has never lost a user to an overdose on its premises since its founding despite experiencing around thirty overdoses per month.

“They [Insite] haven’t had any overdose deaths, and that’s amazing,” said Finegood.

“The public health arguments are absolutely irrefutable,” said Kris Nyrop, national support director for the Law Enforcement Diversion Program (otherwise known as L.E.A.D),  Public Defender Association drug addiction expert, and safe consumption proponent.

Outside of the county’s official heroin task force, most everyone is just starting to dip their toes in the issue. But drug policy reform advocates have been ramping up their calls for safe consumption sites. Last month, Vocal-WA, a group of grassroots activists who are promoting safe consumption sites, brought the founders of the Insite to Seattle to give presentations around the city (including one to city council) on the project and its impact. Vocal-WA held a rally calling for safe consumption sites that also allow for smoking.

The Capitol Hill Community Council has endorsed safe consumption sites and plans to support Vocal-WA’s lobbying efforts, in addition to conducting outreach with other neighborhood councils.

“We’ve heard lots of anecdotes about public drug consumption [in Capitol Hill], people are finding needles on the ground,” said Zachary Pullin, president of the council. Continue reading

12 things CHS heard at Sawant’s Law Enforcement Diversion forum

There is funding enough to start the process of bringing a successful alternative to old-school drug policing to Capitol Hill and the Central District. But the future of the movement is murky.

Thursday night, City Council District 3 representative Kshama Sawant and the Capitol Hill Community Council held a forum at Miller Community Center in Capitol Hill on the Law Enforcement Diversion Program, or LEAD, and how to expand and implement it in her council district encompassing Capitol Hill and the Central District. The forum was approached as an opportunity to discuss mass incarceration and how programs like LEAD fit into broader efforts to roll back the impacts of the war on drugs and tough love policing.

Featured panelists included one of the original architects of the lead program, Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association, LEAD program supervisor Najja Morris, Scott Lindsey, the mayor’s Public Safety and Police Reform Advisor, Turina James, a LEAD participant and former heroin user, along with Sheley Secrest of the NAACP and executive director of the Gender Justice League and statehouse candidate for the 43rd Legislative District, Danni Askini.

While praise for the LEAD program was abundant, speakers routinely stressed the importance of building on LEAD’s successes with more investment to ensure Seattle’s budding experiment in harm-reduction policing doesn’t fade away.

Last year, Mayor Ed Murray allocated one-time funding in his 2016 budget to help expand LEAD into Capitol Hill. Additional expansions and enhancement of LEAD services will require more money.

Advocates said that LEAD needs to be expanded equitably into areas like South Seattle and the Central District, and that more robust services for LEAD like housing for participants who are still actively using drugs is needed to fully realize the program’s potential. In line with her usual rhetoric, Sawant framed societal problems of drug addiction, mass incarceration, and homelessness as systemic ills of capitalism, and called on the audience to advocate for LEAD and other services and to “hold every politician at city hall accountable.”

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Here’s more of what CHS heard at Thursday night’s forum.

  • “There are activists who may be uncomfortable with the authority that LEAD places in individual officers to decide who is good for LEAD and who is not,” said Sawant. “Remember that SPD is still under investigation of the consent decree of the U.S. Justice Department. We have to remember that we are not arguing for this program as a license to whitewash the systemic issues we have in the police department.” Continue reading

Safe injection advocates come to Capitol Hill

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As the local discussion on how to address the heroin epidemic both in Seattle and nationally becoming increasingly potent and urgent — some SPD bike cops are now carrying a heroin overdose antidote to treat street overdoses — advocates for drug policy reform are making the rounds in Seattle this week to promote treating addiction as a health issue and alternative approaches to public drug use like safe injection sites for heroin users.

Wednesday night, 12th Ave Arts will host the founders of a safe injection site based in Vancouver British Columbia called Insite — a non-governmental organization which operates a sanctioned and supervised space where heroin users can obtain clean needles, shoot up in a safe environment, and get connected to health and drug detox services—to discuss their operation, services, results, and harm reduction strategies. The event is being co-hosted by Real Change, the Capitol Hill Community Council, and VOCAL-WA—a local drug policy reform organization. This is the final of four events this week to drum up awareness and support for safe injection sites.

On Monday, the City Council committee on human services and public health heard from Liz Evans, a founder of Insite. She laid out the history of Insite; why she embraced safe injection sites over forcing  detox treatment on heroin users, the drawn-out legal fight with the Canadian federal government to keep the space open, and Insite’s outcomes after servicing Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside neighborhood for over a decade since it was founded in 2003.

“The controversy should not be some much about whether or not an effective and scientifically proven life-saving intervention like an injection site make sense, but rather the controversy should be around how we have allowed the status quo to persist for such a long time,” said Evans. Continue reading

Seattle bike cops now carrying heroin overdose antidote

(Image: SPD)

(Image: SPD)

Heroin overdoses are tragically common on the streets of Capitol Hill and Seattle Police officers are often close-by when they happen.

On Tuesday, SPD announced that 60 bike officers would begin a trial period carrying nasal naloxone, a heroin overdose antidote that experts say could save many more lives if made more widely available.

Under the six to eight month trial period, bike officers who encounter someone suffering from an opioid overdose will administer naloxone and stay with the person until medics arrive. SPD is partnering with the University of Washington to study the effects of the program. Continue reading

Federal agents, SPD arrest 9 in CD drug and firearm investigation

A team of federal and local law enforcement agencies arrested nine people Wednesday following an investigation into firearms and narcotics dealing around 23rd and E Union.

According to the FBI’s Seattle division, investigators identified a hierarchy of narcotics distributors operating around 23rd and Union, which led them to a house near Beacon Hill Elementary School. At the house, the task force recovered cocaine, around $22,000 in cash, and an assault rifle.

The operation was a combined effort of the FBI Seattle Safe Streets Task Force, ATF Puget Sound Crime Gun Taskforce, and the Seattle Police Department. The FBI says the investigation is ongoing as law enforcement agencies continue to identify individuals involved.

FBI spokesperson Ayn Dietrich-Williams told CHS those arrested were not necessarily detained at 23rd and Union. “It was all pretty fluid,” she said. The FBI provided the following list of those arrested in the operation: Continue reading

Capitol Hill drug arrest drop trails big plunge downtown following diversion program

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A concentration of drug related arrests on Capitol Hill since 2011 is part of the rationale behind expanding LEAD. (Image: SPD)

As the number of 911 calls involving drugs on Capitol Hill has declined in recent years, the decline in drug-related arrests has not kept pace. According to a recent report commissioned by the Seattle Police Department, drug-related calls for service declined 34% from 2012-2014 while drug-related arrests only declined 10%.

The trend is particularly interesting when compared to downtown, where drug-related calls for service rose 13% while drug-related arrests declined by 40% in the same time period.

The report didn’t attempt to identify reasons for the discrepancy but researchers said a successful downtown drug diversion program may be a factor. SPD commissioned the Council of State Governments study in order to determine how best to expand Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion — a successful downtown strategy for keeping non-violent drug offenders out of jail.

By looking at crime trends since 2008, researchers determined that Capitol Hill’s commercial core (primarily Pike/Pine and Broadway) ranked among the top three highest concentrations of drug-related 911 calls, arrests, and jail bookings along with downtown and Pioneer Square. It’s the statistical basis the city and county are using for expanding LEAD to Capitol Hill sometime this year.

By expanding LEAD to Capitol Hill, the SPD report said the service areas would cover 2.5% of Seattle’s land area — an area that covers roughly 60% of the city’s drug‐related calls for service and about half of the city’s drug‐related arrests. Continue reading

Garbage bag of marijuana clippings found at 16th and Madison

If you left a garbage bag full of pot plant clippings on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, it’s sitting inside the Seattle Police Department evidence room.

Seattle Police were dispatched to 16th and E Madison around 10:40 AM Tuesday after a caller reported finding a large bag full of marijuana clippings and plant debris scattered on the sidewalk nearby. According to SPD radio traffic, the bag didn’t appear to have any usable marijuana flowers.

SPD will probably not be investigating.

“It’s like finding a beer bottle,” said SPD spokesperson Patrick Michaud.

While retail pot is now legal in the state, there are no facilities CHS is aware of licensed to grow or process recreational marijuana in the immediate vicinity of 16th and Madison. But you might expect to see similar additions to are yard waste soon. Under new medical marijuana laws taking effect, patients will be able to grow up to four plants at home.

Seattle Fire stops overdose in Cal Anderson from joining awful King County heroin trend

Monday night last week in the late evening sun in Cal Anderson, Seattle Fire medics arrived near the playground where bystanders were trying to save the life of a 24-year-old female suffering a drug overdose. Unconscious and not breathing, the woman was brought out of the OD with an injection of naloxone.

Far from a miracle, the overdose fortunately won’t be added to the disturbing trend of spiking heroin deaths:

Death from opiates in King County in 2014:

  • Heroin-involved deaths totaled 156, a 58% increase from 99 in 2013.

  • Heroin deaths involving no other drugs are most common among young adults.

  • Prescription-type opiate-involved deaths have decreased from a peak of 164 in 2009 to 98 in 2014.

In the study from the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, heroin deaths were up across all age groups. As in past UW studies, researches say a mix of heroin with other drugs is often part of the overdose — but 2014 totals reveal a new recipe. “Historically, many heroin deaths have involved cocaine, and this continues to be the case,” a report on the study notes. “However, over the past three years, many more deaths have involved heroin and methamphetamine.”

Heroin’s high, however, is at the core of the region’s addiction problems. “The number of treatment admissions with heroin as the primary drug doubled from 2010-2014 and are higher than any drug since at least 1999,” according to the study.

While it doesn’t address addiction, access to naloxone improved earlier this year with the passage of a new law allowing pharmacists to prescribe naloxone to first responders, homeless shelters, and family members and permit them to administer it across the state. The antidote can’t, of course, save everybody. In April, one man died in an overdose in Cal Anderson while two others were taken to the hospital.

Heroin is also taking its toll on the homeless and mentally ill population in the county:

  • Among those admitted to drug treatment, approximately one-third were determined to have serious mental health issues.

  • Among people who died of drug-overdose, approximately 20% had an antidepressant detected in their body — indicating that the decedent had a serious mental health condition and that they had seen a healthcare provider in the recent past.

  • Mental health and substance abuse commonly overlap and exacerbate one another.

You can read more about the 2014 edition of the study here.