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Snohomish report shows local impact of opioids

SNOHOMISH — Opioid misuse and homelessness are impacting the city of Snohomish, according to a draft report that will transfer from the Public Safety Commission to the City Council after revisions are complete.
The 28-page draft report is a volunteer effort by Elizabeth Larsen, a public safety commission member as well as a senior planner for Snohomish County government.
The report drew on information from government studies and local government entities as well as nonprofits. The Snohomish area population was calculated by
combining the approximately 10,000 residents within the city limits, as well as those living in unincorporated county on its borders: that equates to 30,000 residents. Data was also gathered for surrounding areas, including Monroe and Everett.
According to the report’s current draft, the county’s Snohomish Health District estimates between 5,000 and 10,000 people are suffering from opioid use disorder countywide, and another 35,000 to 80,000 people are misusing opioids. Most who die of overdose have no stated address, which could indicate homelessness or fear of reporting their address to officials, Larsen said in an interview.
The report defines opioids as “chemicals or drugs that act on a specific part of the brain to help us deal with pain and calm us down.” Often prescribed by doctors to treat severe or chronic pain, they come by many names, including Vicodin, Oxycontin, morphine, codeine, and Fentanyl. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) website, Fentanyl is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine and is delivered as a patch: it was developed to treat pain in cancer patients, but is often diverted for drug abuse, the DEA site reports. Opioids are often used safely, but have a high risk for addiction.
One University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute study cited in the report says “57 percent of drug-injectors who had used heroin within
the past three months reported being ‘hooked on’ prescription opioids
before trying heroin.”
The report defines overdose as the stage of use “when a person develops a tolerance and feels like
they need to take more in order to feel ‘normal.’” Past the level of safe dosing, it can depress the central nervous system and slow breathing, causing vital organs to shut down.
Larsen said overdose
numbers have been
reduced with use of Narcan. It’s used to reverse opioid overdose’s effects or it can be used as a diagnosing tool, as well as a medication to treat septic shock, according to It acts as an
Overdose deaths in the city of Snohomish between 2016 and 2017 included nine males and six females. The deceased had various other substances in their bloodstream, including opioids.
Other drugs that contributed to that sample of overdose deaths included:
• Diphenhydramine, antihistamine commonly known as Benadryl that is also included in many over- the-counter sleep aids;
• Alprazolam, an anti-anxiety medication;
• Citalopram, an anti-depressant;
• Methamphetamine; cocaine; amphetamines;
• Gabapentin, an anti-convulsant medication
used to treat seizures, and also used to treat shingles-related pain.
Most overdoses occur in young, white, jobless men. The age range for overdose of opioids was from 16 to
Overdose data from Point in Time surveys beginning in 2017 show that half of overdoses were between the ages of 21 and 30.
In 2017, drug overdoses killed more than 90 people in Snohomish County.
In the report, Larsen described three overdoses in 2016 and 2017 from the Snohomish area, based on county data, as case examples:
One was a 22-year-old Snohomish High School graduate who wanted to be a chef, and is “remembered for his infectious smile
and outgoing personality.”
Another was a 54-year-old University of Washington graduate who was an avid reader and animal lover. She worked part time for the Gates Foundation and spent her free time giving talks on how to live with chronic pain.
The third was a 48-year-old Snohomish High
graduate, and a father remembered for his sense of humor and warmth. He had “mastered the art of building, fixing, and repairing cars and shared his expertise with others.”
The choice to use the experiences of Snohomish people was “because I felt it was more relatable to people then just giving them numbers. It shows that these individuals are valuable members of our society,” Larsen said in an interview.
The report is under review by public safety and city officials, and will be presented to the council after revisions are complete. Larsen said she believes the finished report will be
made available to the public after the council and
others can comment on it.
The Tribune obtained the draft report from Larsen when that version was approved at the July 9 Public Safety Commission
In the report, Larsen included not only the data but resources, asking herself: “Do we have a place that they can go” for help if a person feels they have a problem with opioids. The draft report lists a local chemical dependency counselor as well as other resources.
“Snohomish is a small town and we really care about our people. We care about our community. We’re kind of tight knit.” But, she added that when someone has a problem with prescription drugs, that is not something people tend to speak out about. “We hear about people overdosing. There’s so much that’s hidden from us that we don’t see.”



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