Public health chair: opiate addiction not a disability

The new chair of the Kitsap Public Health Board, and a few members, have some catching up to do on the opiate problems in Bremerton and Kitsap County.

Tuesday Becky Erickson, the 2012 BOH chair and Poulsbo’s mayor, and the few on the board in attendance, were brought up to speed on the Feb. 1 Bremerton City Council decision to allow methadone clinics in specific areas, if a city examiner approves.

Before considering any staff direction, Erickson and two other board members asked for a full-repeat of the statistics and extensive testimony given during last fall’s city council hearings seeking to stop a methadone clinic through moratorium.

“I’m flying blind here,” Erickson said regarding her understanding of the local situation and needs of opiate addicts.

The board meeting continued with 17 participants absent, including two of the three city council members assigned and two of thre e commissioners.

Scott Lindquist, director of public health, started his presentation advising the board that politics should not replace facts regarding the need for opiate replacement therapy.

Bremerton, and Kitsap County, are suffering an opiate epidemic, he said.

Following last year’s loss of the only potential methadone provider, Evergreen Therapeutic Services, and two years of state funding to run it, the problems the city and county continue to face are now two-fold. Hundreds of addicts that could benefit from local treatment remain and many are leaving the high of ill-gotten prescription opiates for heroin.

The clinic would have given many a chance to leave behind the addictive behaviors required to stay high and live a more stable life of opiate replacement therapy.

“There are plenty of doctors and lawyers and shipyard workers [addicted to opiates],” Lindquist said.

Roy Runyon, board of health member and Bremerton City Councilmember, said the council approved two areas for methadone clinics, the freeway corridor along Auto Center Way and the area immediately around Harrison Hospital.

Runyon acknowledged that the city council did not follow the majority recommendation by the Bremerton Planning Commission.

A slew of Charleston area business owners stood out against the clinic’s proposed location on Burwell Street. They led the charge with non-fact based fear tactics. Runyon said recently one of the vocal business owners has since changed his mind, a “knee jerk” reaction and is sorry they blocked the effort.

Runyon said  he preferred more locations in the city and that no special permitting process be included.

“Bremerton is the epicenter of this addiction,” Runyon said.

With heroin come needles and a local uptick in HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and bacterial infections at injection sites, Lindquist said. The local needle exchange pulled in 700,000 needles last year, he said.

With the addicted switching from one of the primary entry into dependency, a prescription drug commonly called Oxy, a synthetic morphine available from many manufactures, Lindquist said that Oxy remains expensive, about $80 a pill on the street and is getting harder to use. Oxy has become largely un smokable, the preferred delivery method. With a hit of heroin costing $20 on the street, people are crossing over.

“It’s in every city in the county,” Lindquist said.

Erickson said, after an extensive review, she’s not convinced that law requires that clinics be allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act as it does with alcoholism.

Current county law forbids siting of methadone clinics and is being reviewed to see if it discriminates against addicts.

“Is opiate addiction a handicap,” Erickson asked? “I don’t think opiate addiction counts.”

Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido, board of health member and 2011 chair of BOCC, said she too needed to better understand opiates and other drugs.

“What does opiate addiction mean in our county?” Garrido asked. “What is the impact?”


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