King County reports rise in heroin overdose deaths
By GREG ALLMAIN
Federal Way Mirror reporter
March 13, 2012 · Updated 4:01 PM
The King County Medical Examiner's office believed that seven deaths over the weekend of March 3-4 were likely caused by heroin overdose.
County officials believe the sudden surge in overdose deaths may be linked to a possibly new and potent strain of heroin to come into the Puget Sound area — or could also be related to additional chemicals mixed into the heroin before it hits the streets.
In the first six months of 2011, King County saw 32 overdose-related deaths.
The county is working with multiple agencies to identify the cause of this sudden surge in possible overdose deaths.
Dr. Charissa Fotinos, medical director for public health for the county, said that those who choose the dangerous drug should always be aware that the consequences are potentially fatal.
"The best way for injection drug users to prevent overdose is not to use heroin, but for those who do, they need to be aware of the overdose risks," she said.
According to King County, the seven deaths over the weekend ranged from people in their teens to people in their 60s, and included both experienced and inexperienced users. The county provides these guidelines for heroin users:
• Never inject when you're alone
• If you got heroin from someone new or it looks different, use less
• Don't use heroin in combination with other "downers" such as benzodiazepines (benzos), alcohol, or prescription-type opiates like OxyContin or methadone. It is also dangerous to mix heroin with uppers such as cocaine or methamphetamine.
Heroin use has been on the rise in recent years, and has coincided with the rise in the popularity of the aforementioned OxyContin.
Treatment specialists at Intercept Federal Way recently shared that heroin use has been on the rise in the city, explaining that often times, it starts with teenagers raiding medicine cabinets for drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin. Once their addiction progresses and users are forced to turn to the streets, for OxyContin especially, the habit becomes cost prohibitive for many. With OxyContin pills going for anywhere between $80 to $100 a pill on the street, many turn to intravenous injection of heroin because the cost of heroin is considerably lower.
Outside of that, the county advises that if a person is with someone who may be experiencing a potential overdose, call 911 immediately. A 2010 law allows for immunity from criminal charges of drug possession for both the witness and the user in cases of overdose. That same law also expands access to Narcan, an "opiate antagonist" used to treat addiction to heroin.
For more information on the aforementioned law, visit http://stopoverdose.org.
Contact Federal Way Mirror reporter Greg Allmain at email@example.com or 253-925-5565 ext. 5054.