Heroin use on the rise in Kitsap County

Kitsap County health officials are concerned that heroin use is on the rise.

County health staff are seeing more needles at the county syringe exchange program, said Kitsap Public Health Director Scott Lindquist.

Amphetamines, marijuana and prescription drug abuse are the most common forms of illegal drug use in the county, but injectible heroin is a growing worry for Lindquist.

"While opiates are common, a cheaper alternative is heroin," Lindquist said.

Injected drug use poses the risk of spreading diseases including hepatitis and HIV, so needle exchanges offer drug users a way to get clean needles without fear of getting arrested.

In 2008, about 4,500 anonymous participants exchanged 280,000 needles at the program. In 2010, nearly 10,000 participants exchanged 680,000 needles.

Lindquist's community outreach staffers are also seeing more needles discarded dangerously in the Charleston neighborhood. Lindquist believes it's because drug users are angry about the City of Bremerton recently opposing Evergreen Treatment Services' proposal to open methadone treatment clinic in Charleston.

“It’s an epidemic,” said Monte Levine, a syringe exchange program volunteer. Levine has been volunteering with Kitsap Public Health for 15 years.

Levine said he's also giving out more vials of the drug naloxone, which counteracts overdoses. He estimates volunteers gave out 100 vials last year.

Levine said two kinds of heroin are popular on the streets right now, one higher-strength and expensive, the second cheap and weaker.

"You can smell the vinegar, it's highly acidic, damages veins," Levine said of the weaker herion.

Youth unemployment is one reason Levine gives for the surge because many of the addicts he sees are under age 25.

"Loss of hope," he said. The national jobless rate for people aged 16 to 24 stood at nearly 17 percent in February, and Levine guesses it's higher in Kitsap.

He also sees a great need for the methadone clinic in Kitsap County. Plans for a clinic in Bremerton were killed when the city council stalled plans with a moratorium on zoning for opiate replacement clinics.

Recetnly the Board of County Commissioners removed an arcane law against building methadone clinics in the county. State law forbids the outright exclusion of clinics, but allows local jurisdictions to regulate zoning and permitting of the clinics.

Methadone, or dolophine, is a narcotic used to help wean people off opiates. Levine said it's difficult for people to travel to clinics in Seattle or Tacoma for help.

Admissions to county treatment facilities for heroin use increased from 19 in 2007 to 58 last year.

Meth is not as prevalent as it was in the early 2000s, when the officials cleaned up more than 50 labs each year. In 2010, police only found one meth lab, said Beth Lipton, an epidemiologist with Kitsap Public Health.

At the Kitsap Recovery Center, treatment director Lisa Romwall said she's noticed more patients coming in with meth problems in the last few months, but didn’t have exact statistics readily available.

"Meth becomes popular because opiates get expensive, and when it's hard to get meth, people go to opiates," Romwall said.


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