Opioid roundtable dives deeper into addiction and recovery services in Snohomish County

Roundtable participants gather via Zoom Thursday night.

Updated to clarify that Verdant has provided a grant to South Pathways to expand its needle exchange program but is not operating the program itself.

The opioid crisis is closer to home than many in Snohomish County realize, and the impacts are felt across the community. That was one takeaway from Thursday night’s virtual Opioid Roundtable hosted by the Verdant Health Commission.

Verdant Health Commission Board President Jim Distelhorst opened the meeting by sharing a 17-minute video about opioid usage in Snohomish County, where overdose deaths have risen by 20-30% since 2020. In 2020 alone, 525 Snohomish County residents died of an opioid overdose. Yakima County is the only other county in Washington with more opioid-related deaths.

Opioid use is not only harmful to users – it also hurts others in the community. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three police officers will be stuck by a used needle in their career. 

Lynnwood-based Verdant (read more about how it operates and is funded here) funds a range of health-related initiatives and also provided a grant to Sound Pathways to expand its Syringe Service Program (SSP) into South Snohomish County. The needle exchange program provides drug users with sterile injecting supplies, safe needle disposal, access to health care, treatment, testing and support.

Distelhorst pointed out that Sound Pathways is not handing out free needles, thus causing a larger supply of improperly disposed needles. 

“People only receive the number of needles they turn in,” Distelhorst said. 

This helps limit the number of needles in the community, as well as ensures as many needles as possible are getting properly disposed of, he said.

Another way Verdant has been addressing the opioid issue is by hosting Narcan training. Narcan is a nasal spray that, when administered, blocks the effects of an opioid overdose. In January, Verdant partnered with Molina Healthcare and Snohomish County Human Services to put on three training sessions that over 75 community members attended.

As a result, “there are now 75 more people in our community trained to recognize the signs of an overdose and administer Narcan,” Distelhorst said. “Each participant was given a Narcan kit to take home. Each kit contains two Narcan nasal sprays. This means there are now 150 more of these Narcan nasal sprays circulating in the community.”

Verdant is planning to hold additional Narcan training sessions in the coming months.

Roundtable speaker Linda Grant, CEO of Evergreen Recovery Center, said there is a stereotype that only teenagers use opioids, when that is actually not the case.

“We have to expand our thinking on how we address that,” Grant said. “About 70% of opioid deaths are people who are over age 30.”

Evergreen’s Naturopathic Physician Andrew Dzikowski said the clinic has seen a significant rise in relapse since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he added that Evergreen is working to be a place where patients feel they can come back if they need additional help.

“One of the things we are striving to have is regardless of whether or not you’ve relapsed or if you’re in recovery, we want to be a safe place for people to feel they can come back to, regardless of their situation, without any judgment,” he said. “And that’s what we are doing. We’re creating a safe, protected space for people to come at all stages of recovery and all stages of life and to help guide them into a safer environment with housing, counseling, therapy, medical management and a warm, loving touch.”

 After the video, a question-and-answer session was held to address community questions.

Many commenters asked where teens can receive drug treatments and have access to programs like the SSP.

Distelhorst said the Center for Human Services offers outpatient treatments for teens. The center is a community-based nonprofit youth and family services agency that provides counseling and promotes drug and alcohol prevention. Northpoint Recovery, located in Bellevue, also offers treatment for children 12-17 and accepts Medicaid. 

Grant said she has empathy for youth who are trying to seek help for drug addiction, as resources have plummeted over the last few years.

“Youth treatment has just diminished terribly in terms of resources,” she said. “I know our legislature is trying to beef that up this time, but Center for Human Services is about it. Even the inpatient center, Sundown M Ranch [located in Yakima] is the last inpatient treatment center for youth. It’s just dying without a really good reason.”

One commenter asked if facilities were seeing longer stays than before due to drugs being laced with traces of stronger substances.

According to Mishelle Rutherford, the director of health services at Evergreen, the average stay for patients in detox is five days. However, stays are getting longer because so many drugs are now being laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Because fentanyl takes so long to leave the body, patients are experiencing withdrawal symptoms for longer periods of time.

“We’re seeing that it’s living in the fat cells,” she said. “So it’s releasing at all different times. So someone may be feeling better one day in detox, and the next, they’re back into full withdrawal. It’s been really hard to manage.”

Another commenter tied into that question, asking if it was proving difficult to convince insurance companies to cover longer stays.

Rutherford said up to this point, Evergreen has not had too many problems with insurance companies.

“As long as we can show that there’s a medical need for them to be there,” she said. “That’s where it gets tricky, because what we might consider a medical need in our field of detox, may not be exactly what the insurance company sees as a medical need. So that does cause problems.”

In fact, Rutherford said, there is more of an issue with patients leaving early. 

“We end up having a lot of people leave against medical advice toward day four or five because they’re not feeling better,” she said. “So it’s kind of a complicated piece just in having them complete detox. And of course, just going through detox: That’s just the very start.”

Distelhorst ended the meeting by thanking the community for joining and being open to learn about the complicated processes of drug treatment.

Any further questions or comments can be sent to Zoe Reese at zoe.reese@verdanthealth.org.

— by Lauren Reichenbach

  1. Frankly I don’t think this is great news. We are handing out free to users, needles. (That tax payers buy) and Narcan (how much is the cost for this we are paying?) but we are not promoting drug usage? I thought Narcan was only step one and that they had to go to hospitals ASAP to get the rest?? You all know many drug users carry Narcan? How many users have overdosed and have used Narcan More than once? Is this really a deterrent?? We need to create mandatory in-house drug facilities. Either here or jail. We are already spending enough money to fund them. Then they work a year to pay off the institutions. Tough love.
    What we are doing is NOT working. Stop bringing the drugs in. Penalty for dealing….life..I’ll be t that slows down the sales.

  2. Joy, your point is a good one. Our tax dollars pay for Verdant. There is nothing on there website about there needle exchange and it isn’t listed on the state health department web site. How are they referring people to treatment? They don’t have anyone working there who is a licensed substance use person. How are they making sure that only people i the hospital district get needles and not from all over the county or Seattle? With our tax dollars? Did they do any conversations or outreach with any of the city councils to talk about this before they started it? Where do we taxpayers get more information about what they are doing with the needle trade in?

    1. The comments above require a response.
      First off, the people and programs that make Narcan and clean needles available are doing their best to save lives, not enable people.
      100,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses last year. Everyone of them were someone’s son, daughter, spouse, or parent. No one sets out to become an addict, but it happens, and addiction is no respecter of wealth, race, education or moral character.

      We cannot hope to help our fellow Americans get better if they are dead. If you need to express your disgust I suggest you direct it to the pharmaceutical companies that unleashed an epidemic of opioids on poor and rural communities twenty years ago, knowing full well how addictive their product was. They made billions of dollars and destroyed countless lives. For money.

      Two recommendations: the HULU series “Dopesick” and the book “Empire of Pain”. (Sorry I’m not recollecting the authors name, but Goggle or the library will help.

  3. Ed-its not that needle exchange are a bad thing, it is how they went about doing it. Did they have conversations with anybody in the community and how are they going to make sure our tax dollars for the hospital district don’t give needles to people in other areas who come here for them. And how and when are they going to give out needles? There is no information on there website and they aren’t listed on the WA depart. of health website.

  4. Sam-

    You say that needle exchanges are not a bad thing. But a couple of points in your post suggest otherwise.

    Just curious. Why is it important to you that you know how and when “they are going to give out needles”? Do you need to know the specifics of other public health administrative policies and procedures that don’t affect you personally?

    The suggestion that undeserving people are going to come to Edmonds from all over just for a couple of clean needles is a fallacy. And it’s a fallacy that’s been around for at least the forty years that I’ve been a social worker. It’s a story that’s intended to thwart services in areas where the neighbors don’t want them.

    I’ll say it again: the people needing these services are your fellow Americans, many are Veterans, they are all human beings deserving of your compassion and help. Many of you reading this have loved ones who struggle with addiction. Many of you have already lost someone to overdose, and many of you live in fear that someone you love won’t survive to make it into treatment and recovery.

    Addiction in America is a pandemic that surpasses Covid, and we have not funded treatment services to meet the magnitude of need. With 100,000 overdoses last year, just keeping people alive is a top priority. Clean needles and Narcan save lives, and tax money spent for these inexpensive items is money well spent.

    1. We just received a note from the Verdant Health Commission today that Verdant isn’t operating its own needle exchange program, but provided a grant to Sound Pathways to expand its existing program into South Snohomish County. We have updated the story to reflect that. — Teresa Wippel, publisher

  5. So..we give away new needles, how many addicts got off drugs with these? Narcan, how many people got off drugs with Narcan? So is society who is paying for these winning the war on drugs or just extending it? Are you for open borders too? That’s how the drugs come into the USA. That’s why the drug addiction deaths are increasing so fast. If government separated the 80% drug addicts from mentally challenged and the short turn a hand up homeless then we could really get serious handle on addiction. Most addicts want to live on the street. We are funding it..

  6. The “War on Drugs”, begun during the Nixon Administration is, quite obviously, a failed effort. Perhaps instead of framing addiction as a “War” (We seem to love that tired nomenclature: The War on Cancer, The War on Terror, etc;) we should think about what really works: early education, prevention programs, treatment on demand, jobs training programs, housing, adequate funding, and a commitment of years, not just an election cycle.

    No border, no matter how secure, and no wall, no matter how high, will keep drugs out of the US. The law of supply and demand will always mean drugs are available in America. By taking a different approach than the one we’ve been pursuing for the past fifty years, however, we may be able to lessen the demand, and we could expect to see supply drop as well.

    But building more prisons and “getting tough on crime” are the tactics of the failed War on Drugs. That kind of “law and order” rhetoric is always trotted out by ambitious political candidates every election cycle. You don’t have to look very far to see that it doesn’t work.

    We desperately need education and access to treatment nationwide. I will say one more time, because you don’t seem to get it: clean needles and Narcan alone will not get people off drugs. They are not intended to. They are intended to keep people alive. They should be available everywhere, to everyone that needs them.

    Our approach to this epidemic has been wrong-headed, stingy, and punishing. We have spent more on prosecuting and imprisoning people that treating them. The War on Drugs is over, and we lost. It’s way past time to try something that works. And maybe a place to begin is to be a little more aware of our own prejudices and attitudes.

  7. I disagree Ed, when we had the borders almost closed (Trump era) we didn’t have half as many drug related deaths. Common since, the drugs coming into the USA now has doubled, and now we are seeing the no wall, open borders mind set. Also the border patrol think it’s about to triple because the drug dealers are increasing at a rapid pace. This is all political. Unless the government stops the homeless camps….this will continue. I think training is a good start in grade schools. But these people need to be off the streets. We are allowing this behavior. And there is no penalties currently involved. Why? Build the wall, stop the drugs coming in..was a good start. Then Start the in-house rehabs. No good things happen in tent cities. We keep giving every state, dept, etc more Money and it only expands. Never a look back with the government..

  8. You can build border walls and prisons until the cows come home and you won’t stop substance abuse and homelessness until you take the profit out of the drug trade and provide some sort of basic housing, preferably with treatment for those willing and wanting it; and cheap legal prescription supply for those unwilling for treatment. Mental health treatment should also be made reasonably cheap and available to all who need it.

    The Mexican government is basically owned now by the drug lords and cartels and the only way to put them out of business is to make their products so cheap and available, no one will buy from them. If you are going to put every drug addict and homeless person in prison, that’s an option I guess, but it will be much more expensive than actually trying to help them with their problems. Prohibition of alcohol didn’t work and neither does prohibition of hard drugs.

    We need to have regional based (County) public refugee type housing facility with drug, mental health and alcohol counseling available. Our police need to have the ability to force people out of our parks and public spaces and that requires having somewhere to take them. There are only two possible places to take them in the end, jail or a regional center. There really are no other options. It will cost us tax payers a bundle either way we do it and hating “the government” definitely is not an answer no matter how tempting and good it feels to some of us.

  9. Clinton has some good points. Many others have said a high percent of homeless folks are either mentally ill and/or on drugs. Here are some rational estimates of costs.
    1. Prison is about $45-50k per person per year. Includes medical, dental, food and housing and clothes. Depending on sentence this cost per person is pretty high for a multi year sentence.
    2. Mental facility. Same services as prison but more costly. Still need guards, but Dr and Medical Staff cost add to the total cost. My bet is the cost is at least 25-50% higher? Some may never be released but others may make it back to society. Still the cost is likely to be multi year.
    3. Drug rehab facility Some of the same costs of 1 and 2 above but done right not multi year. Unless a relaps but if relaps then make get to go to 1 above.
    Clinton’s point is we should do more to do some of this stuff right. Do item 3 well and reduces the use of 1!
    Our current approach to “shelter has often been to buy a motel and provide shelter that way. The last purchase
    by King County was $350,000 plus for each room! Yes a bed and bathroom but $350,000? Where do they cook? This approach sounds very expensive for “shelter”. I bet others may be able to come up with several ways to create shelter (let make it a bit more useable and call it a “tiny home”). Let’s have a design contest with builders and designers coming up with ideas that can work. They always do but then the Real question come up. Where do you build it. All of the Motel Buys have NIMBY push back. Save the day care center or a school but always not on any dirt near me.
    Find some dirt, publicly owned if possible and let the design begin. Offer a design/building team a $500/sq ft price and see what they can do. The motel purchase was around $1100/sq. ft. We can do better.

  10. I read on line the other day that one city (not sure what state) is using prefabricated ice fishing sheds that cost about $500 each and have built in simple electrical circuits for 110/power. It would be best to keep the housing part as cheap and simple as possible and concentrate more on the rehab and mental health counseling parts of the process.

    I think to really work well, such a plan needs to keep basic housing really basic as an incentive to get clean; or sober; or on anti-psychotic drugs or whatever is needed to get back positively into society. In some cases drug maintenance or jail will have to be employed which will always be a controversial sticking point. It makes most sense to me to keep it in the medical, rather than the correction field, as much as possible.

  11. I believe all this could happen….but won’t now. States make too much undocumented $$$$ on the homeless.

    1. Posting on behalf of Darrol Haug, who is having technical issues:

      It is always interesting to see what people are thinking about relating to homeless and the cause or current condition. Seems to be some agreement that homeless folks fall into several broad categories.
      1. Some form of mental illness issue.
      2. Some relating to drug issues.
      3. Down on their luck issues.
      4. Short term financial issues.
      Most seem to agree we need to find some sort of “shelter”, “housing” or some other “roof over head”. Earlier I noted some estimates for various alternative solutions for various groups and no one, except Clinton, has commented on these ideas, or offered any other solutions??? Clinton’s points are valid!! But where and how do we find the locations for these facilities and how do we pay for it.

      Part of Clinton’s remarks are about cost and quality. Valid! There are already approaches used by other places to keep the cost as low as possible but adequate. 3D printer, prefab small buildings, apodments, and other solutions exist. It looks like some govt entities are working in some of these approaches and hopefully they will create some alternatives that are far more cost effective than the “buy a motel” plans that have surfaced.

      Govt seems willing to use available money to work on alternatives but buying a motel seem to miss the mark in relation to any form of cost-effective housing. $350,000/motel room, Clint says $500/unit, some other estimates floated around is $2500 to $4000, let’s just estimate high and say $3500. The $350,000 the county spent could have purchased 100, one hundred, “C” in roman numerals!

      So can we come up with better cost solutions, yes! But no one yet has offered WHERE would we find the land! One place to start is look at the land currently owned by the public and see if they can be used. Any ideas, or comments for that matter?

  12. For any sort of Regional plan to work I would think it would be necessary to buy a large property or repurpose a property that is already owned by a city or county. For example, to protect most of our parks and public spaces we might have to sacrifice a park space somewhere or incorporate the regional center into an already existing park facility. Part of a rehab program might be working in the park or parks maintaining the living and parking areas.

    I keep going back to the old “Poor Farm” concept once used in rural counties of the Midwest. I’m also thinking back to the old Love Israel family compound that was located in rural Arlington. A large farm area of some sort could be purchased by all the county municipalities banded together using their combined local funding and whatever federal grants could be obtained. We have a combined fire authority, why couldn’t there be a local combined temporary shelter authority?

    We are all going to be paying for this one way or another as we’ve discussed before. It seems like we are paying lots of money to play cops, robbers. and prisons for the past fifty plus years. Why not spend some of that money actually trying to help people even if they don’t want help. Personally I’d just as soon buy somebody a tent shelter and drugs and needles (if necessary) as opposed to having to buy an expensive car part they just stole to get drug money while living in and polluting the nearest city park.

  13. I think you have thought this out but I wonder have you volunteered to help some of these homeless? It’s not as easy as I or you may think. You may have honestly the best plan ever to help these people and will be shocked if the majority don’t see it your way., and refuse any help if they have to go indoors. And currently you can’t force any of them to get involved with your plan. Unless you change the law…that is where you will have a problem. I guarantee you Gov Inslee will not give up these millions easily. I happily await what his answer will be. Try to get in front of him with your idea,

  14. My first wife and I spent years working with the poor and homeless as members of a faith based organization who’s only purpose was to help people in need. We first did this in the Everett area when we lived and worked there and then in the Edmonds area after I (we) moved back to Edmonds. I was also involved for some time in an organization, now dissolved, that first tried to address the issue of homelessness and affordable housing in the Edmonds area. It was an interesting experience where I learned the NIMBY meme is the order of the day in our fair city and nearby localities such as Woodway (as a prime example). In our charitable work we learned that many, if not most, of the problems of our homeless and poorly housed stems from things like domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse as much or more than the simple problem of low paid or no employment.

    I agree that you can’t force people to get or accept help, but we absolutely can force people to go to a specific place where basic human needs are met and rehab services are offered. There is nothing in the law that says we have to keep letting people live in our public spaces. We can certainly say, “you can pitch your tent here but you can’t pitch it over there.” The choices are do nothing and give up all our public spaces, or put people in jail for being drug addicted or poor, or provide cheap public funded living spaces for them with help for their problems offered. I guess we can try a different Governor (as many blame this one) at election time, but I doubt that will change much in terms of solving this ever more malignant social problem that is nationwide not just local

  15. I agree it’s a waste of money and it’s not working what we are long now. I’ve said all along we should invest in mental wards and rehabs. Now the homeless are getting money, a lot of money…our money. And nothing is. Ring done to fix the problem. I hope with your past experience you maybe can get to see the Governor…however I doubt you will get only lip service with this one.. you would have to pair up with a agency that has pull with the homeless. And then approach him. But he has been given so much money for the homeless I doubt he will part with it..

  16. With all due respect, Joy, I’m 76 years old and I don’t have to do anything anymore except what I want to enjoy the rest of my life. I’ve done my duty toward my fellow man and paid my dues, so to speak. I have no regrets about my life. I took care of my father, my mother, my mother in-law and my late wife in their times of trial, illness and need. Charity begins at home, which is often forgotten now and causes many problems for everyone.

    It’s time for us older generation people to give it up for the most part and let the next generations take over and try to do better than we have (not sure we have prepared them very well for the task though). All I actually have to do now, living in our still free country, is “die and pay taxes,” as the old saying goes.

  17. Clint, I agree with the first paragraph and I commend you for taking care of your loved ones. You are right too many depend on others to do that for the. So hat off to you.

    The second paragraph I do not agree with. I see it more like this; It is not the time for the older generation to give up for the most part and let the next generation take over. I would sure we or they have prepared well for the task. I believe the younger the mid and the older should work together on this. WE are all to blame in one way or another.

    I respect your decision to lay down and die and pay taxes. But Clint I know I will be paying taxes but I also worked my whole life to now get to enjoy things I put off to be in a position to not be a burden to anyone. I plan to travel and enjoy the things I haven’t done which are many. And btw we did lay down a bit and look at this city now and all the others who thought that was a good philosophy. We don’t have to yell and scream and disagree with younger voters we can simply give many years of knowledge and hope and yes money. Push us too far and well…no more money. We all have the right to be heard. Freedom of speech has no age limit. I want to work with the younger generation in a loving and caring way but I won’t be cancelled by them. I do not believe in Canceling people. THE people who pay the BIG taxes here you better not think you can cancel. We have seen much, we don’t cancel easily.

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