HeroinReport_Final v2_Jan 2015.pub

Heroin in
Snohomish County:
Mortality and Treatment Trends
January 2015
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Table of Contents
Introduction and Acknowledgments································································ 1
Executive Summary ······················································································· 2
Overdose Mortality Due to Heroin ······························································· 3
Confirmed and Probable Heroin-Related Deaths ·········································· 4
Heroin-Related Mortality Rates ···································································· 5
Heroin Mortality Rates by Sex and Age ························································ 6
Heroin Mortality Rates by Race ·································································· 7
Heroin-Related Deaths by Zip Code ··························································· 8
Percent of Adult Detoxification Admissions ··················································· 9
Percent of Outpatient Treatment Admissions ·········································· 10-11
Policy Implications/Strategies
Policy Implications/Strategies···································································· 12
Data Sources
Data Sources ·························································································· 13
Opioid use, especially heroin use, is an increasingly serious problem in Snohomish
County. From 2011 to 2013, approximately one out of every five heroin deaths in the
state occurred locally. In 2013 alone, heroin and prescription opioid overdoses
represented two-thirds of the 130 accidental overdose deaths in the county.
Recognizing the need to move toward evidence-based practices, the Snohomish
Health District and Snohomish County Department of Human Services partnered to
evaluate the statistics specifically for our community.
Heroin in Snohomish County: Mortality and Treatment Trends represents the hard work of
Mark Serafin, Dr. Robin Fenn and many others who are committed to preventing drug
use, treating heroin and other opioid addictions, and preventing overdose deaths. The
thoughtful and detailed analysis in this report demonstrates the real epidemic in
Snohomish County, as well as the need for multiple partners to intervene at targeted
In order to affect lasting change, the community must work together to find meaningful
short- and long-term solutions. Increased awareness of Washington’s Good Samaritan
Law, additional detoxification capacity, increased distribution of overdose reversal kits,
and the evaluation of alternatives to incarceration are some of the ways county
officials can begin to address this problem. We hope this report will serve as a catalyst
for continued discussions and actions on a broader scale.
Dr. Gary Goldbaum, Health Officer
Snohomish Health District
Ken Stark, Director
Snohomish County Human Services
Mark Serafin, MA, MS
Snohomish Health District
Robin Fenn, PhD, LICSW
Snohomish County Human Services
Contributors: Carrie McLachlan, Snohomish Health District
Wendy Burchill, Snohomish Health District
Pat Calcote, Snohomish Health District
The team would also like to acknowledge the technical expertise of Caleb BantaGreen with the University of Washington and Jennifer Sabel with Washington State
Department of Health.
Executive Summary
Snohomish County is facing an epidemic of drug overdoses. Of approximately 300
deaths per year due to unintentional injury, 44 percent were due to unintentional
poisoning. The primary agents for unintentional poisoning deaths were prescription
opioid analgesics (particularly oxycodone and hydrocodone) and heroin. The increase
in mortality caused by these drugs is mirrored in local substance abuse treatment
programs, which have also seen large increases in the number of clients experiencing
problems with these drugs. That heroin has recently replaced opioid painkillers as the
main agent in overdose deaths and addiction treatment is of particular concern.
Combating this epidemic requires a coordinated effort of Snohomish County agencies.
Law enforcement, social and health services, and community groups must collaborate
in order to disrupt the sources of heroin, prevent drug use from happening, treat those
who have become addicted, and prevent overdose deaths. These agencies must
coordinate efforts in order to maximize their collective impact. Ineffective, older
methods must be replaced with evidence-based practices that can effect change.
Meeting this challenge is everyone’s responsibility.
Mark Serafin, MA, MS
Robin Fenn, PhD, LICSW
Heroin in Snohomish County
Mortality Due to Heroin
Unintentional poisoning deaths have increased in Snohomish County since the 1990s.
Most of this increase was driven by the growing use of opioid painkillers carrying a high
potential for abuse and overdose. The most commonly prescribed opioids recently
have been oxycodone and hydrocodone. Overdoses of these drugs increased until
2008, followed by a sharp decrease due to tighter regulations and drug reformulation.
However, heroin-related deaths began to increase at about the same time. Deaths
from these drugs comprise about two-thirds of overdose deaths in the county.
Overdose Mortality Due to Heroin and/or Oxycodone/Hydrocodone
Snohomish County, 2000-2013
From 2011 through 2013, Snohomish County experienced unusually high numbers of
deaths involving heroin. Similar high rates were observed in Washington State and the
U.S. as a whole. These increases seem to be driven by users’ desire to find a
replacement for prescription opioid painkillers (used for recreational purposes)
combined with the sudden availability of inexpensive, but potent, heroin.
Confirmed and Probable Heroin-Related Deaths
Snohomish County, 2000-2013
When heroin is metabolized by the body, the resulting compounds are indistinguishable
from those produced when the body metabolizes prescription morphine. In addition,
few medical examiners in the state are properly trained to distinguish heroin from other
opioids. Many deaths that are recorded as “morphine” or “other opioids” are actually
heroin. Analyses conducted by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of
Washington found this to true in about 84 percent of such cases. The chart above shows
the trend in heroin-related deaths including both “confirmed” cases and “probable”
heroin deaths. Note the increasing proportion of deaths that were confirmed as heroin
from 2007 through 2013, as well as the major increase in heroin-related deaths that
occurred in 2011.
Until 2010, Snohomish County’s rate of heroin-related mortality was similar to the State’s.
After 2010, the county began to experience much higher death rates than was normal
for Washington. From 2011 forward these differences were statistically significant. During
these years more than 40 county residents died with heroin in their system each year.
Snohomish County experienced 18% of all heroin-related deaths in Washington during
this period, although the county comprises only 10% of the state’s population.
Heroin-Related Mortality Rates
Snohomish County and Washington State, 2000-2013
Heroin Mortality Rates by Sex and Age
Snohomish County and Washington State, 2011-2013
About two-thirds of heroin-related deaths in Snohomish County and Washington were
males. Although there was an increase in the proportion of women in 2011 and 2012, it
was not significant. Heroin-related deaths were most common among people between
the ages of 18 and 29, but none occurred to people younger than 18. Deaths related to
heroin were rare among people 65 and older.
Native Americans are disproportionately represented among heroin deaths in the
county, with a rate more than six times greater than that of whites. Native Americans
were also more likely to die from heroin than other races in Washington as a whole.
Nine percent of heroin overdoses in Snohomish County occurred to Native Americans,
who only comprise 1.2 percent of the county’s population. However, most of the
Native American deaths occurred in 2011 and 2012, with only one in 2013, so this
difference may no longer be as profound. Similarly, during this period Native Americans
made up 13 percent of publicly-funded detoxification admissions for heroin.
Heroin Mortality Rates by Race
Snohomish County and Washington State, 2011-2013
Heroin-Related Deaths by Zip Code
Snohomish County, 2011-2013
Heroin-related deaths were most common in the 98201 (North Everett) and 98271
(Tulalip Reservation) zip codes. These two zip codes experienced 39 such deaths from
2011 through 2013, or 27 percent of the total number of heroin-related deaths in the
county. In contrast, each of these zip codes represents only 4 percent of the county
population. The concentration of deaths in zip code 98271 is not surprising given the
high number of heroin-related deaths to Native Americans in the county, as discussed
Data from drug treatment programs reflect those from death certificates. Admissions for
problems with opioid painkillers as the primary drug of choice have decreased, but this
decrease has been more than cancelled out by the increase in admissions for heroin.
Percent of Adult Detoxification Admissions
Due to Heroin and/or Oxycodone/Hydrocodone
Snohomish County, 2005-2013
Adult admissions to publicly-funded detoxification programs show a pattern similar to
that of drug deaths. The proportion of admissions for oxycodone and hydrocodone as
primary drug of choice fell sharply in 2011, while those for heroin as primary drug of
choice increased just as sharply. Detoxification admissions for these two types of drugs
increased from 16 percent of admissions in 2005 to 69 percent in 2013.
Note: Treatment data reflect those admissions to adult detoxification, adult outpatient and youth
outpatient treatment for those clients with a residence zip code in Snohomish County. These admissions
exclude clients whose treatment was paid for by the Department of Corrections and private insurance as
the consistency of data for these two types of payers may be inadequately represented in the state
SCOPE database
Percent of Adult Outpatient Treatment Admissions
for Heroin or Oxycodone/Hydrocodone
Snohomish County, 2005-2013
Admission data for adults to publicly-funded outpatient drug treatment programs show
a similar pattern to mortality and detoxification admissions. There was an increase in the
proportion of admissions due to opioids as the primary drug of choice, with most of the
recent growth being due to heroin. Admissions for oxycodone or hydrocodone peaked
in 2010, when they accounted for 10 percent of all admissions. Since then, heroin has
been the primary cause of adult outpatient treatment admissions, accounting for 25
percent in 2013.
Percent of Youth (< 18 years) Outpatient Treatment Admissions
for Heroin or Oxycodone/Hydrocodone
Snohomish County, 2005-2013
The number of youth in outpatient treatment programs is much lower than that of
adults. However, there was still a steady increase in the percent of admissions where
heroin and oxycodone/hydrocodone were the primary drug of choice from 2005
through 2011. As seen with adults, treatment admissions for oxycodone and
hydrocodone were highest from 2008 through 2010, after which they decreased. Similar
to trends for adults, admissions for heroin as the primary drug of choice began to
increase in 2009, reaching a high in 2011. After this, the proportion treated for heroin
decreased slightly, with oxycodone and hydrocodone disappearing as a primary
reason for treatment. It should be noted that even though heroin admissions are down
slightly since 2011, there were still 23 youths treated for heroin as the primary drug of
choice in 2013, compared to only 1 in 2005.
Policy Implications/Strategies
Evidence-based strategies to address opioid overdose, treatment and prevention
already exist. These are summarized below, with more detailed information provided
under the Data Sources section.
Given the increase in the number of detoxification admissions for heroin and other
opioids use, and given that only 16 publicly-funded detoxification beds available in
Snohomish County, the county’s detoxification capacity should be expanded. Areas
and municipalities outside of the Everett core (e.g., South County, North County) need
to be considered as potential sites for expanded detoxification programs.
The County should continue to expand medication-assisted treatment for those with
heroin or opioid addictions (including but not limited to methadone, naloxone and
naltrexone). Research shows that when treating substance use disorders, a combination
of medication and behavioral therapies (medication-assisted treatment, or MAT) is most
We should enhance support and community education and outreach about HB 1796,
the “Good Samaritan Law”. One way to do this is to expand the availability of naloxone
(commonly known as Narcan) to include school personnel, law enforcement,
treatment agencies, corrections, families, individuals, and more. In a recent evaluation
of the Washington State 9-1-1 Good Samaritan Drug Overdose law, 42 percent (n=355)
of those opioid users at syringe exchanges in King County had witnessed an opioid
overdose in the prior year; 9-1-1 was only called in 50 percent of those incidents.
Following public outreach about the law, 88 percent of opioid users indicated that now
they were aware of the law, they would be more likely to call 9-1-1 during future
overdoses (Banta-Green et al., 2011). Since 2010, at least 188 community-based
overdose prevention programs now distribute naloxone. A recent study of the
programs’ impact indicated that over 10,000 overdoses were reversed nationally since
2010 (Wheeler et al, 2012).
We must continue to support and expand primary prevention efforts, especially in areas
with a higher prevalence and incidence of heroin/opioid use. The Institute of Medicine
and National Research Council’s Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral
Disorders Among Young People Report – 2009 notes that every dollar spent on early
treatment and prevention programs for addictions and mental illness programs yields $2
to $10 savings in health costs, criminal and juvenile justice costs, educational costs, and
lost productivity (O’Connell et al., Eds, 2009).
Finally, the courts should review and implement evidence-based practices for
alternative sentencing and treatment in lieu of incarceration. Nearly half of people
incarcerated have been identified as having both substance abuse and mental
disorders, often requiring medications along with counseling, such as medically-assisted
treatment (Miller et al, 2014).
Data Sources
Washington State Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics, Death Certificate
Data, 1990–2013, August 2014.
Washington State Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics, Death Certificate
Opioid Data, 1990–2013, November 2014.
Washington State Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery, System for
Communicating Outcomes, Performance and Evaluation (SCOPE). Treatment
Admissions Data, 2005-2013. November 2014.
Banta-Green CJ, Kuszler PC, Coffin PO, Schoeppe JA. (2011). Washington’s 911 Good
Samaritan Drug Overdose Law - Initial Evaluation Results. Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute,
University of Washington, November 2011. URL: http://adai.uw.edu/pubs/infobriefs/
ADAI-IB-2011-05.pdf (accessed 28 December 2014).
Miller, M, Fumia, D, Kay, N, Lee, S, Aos, S. (2014). Inventory of evidence-based, researchbased and promising practices: Prevention and intervention services for adult
behavioral health benefit-cost & meta-analysis results. Olympia, WA: Washington State
Institute for Public Policy.
National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, Inc. (2014). Policy
Statement on efforts to prevent fatal opioid overdose. Washington, DC.
O’Connell, ME, Boat, T., Warner, KE (Eds.) (2009). Preventing Mental, Emotional, and
Behavioral Disorders among Young People: Progress and Possibilities. Washington, DC:
The National Academies Press.
Wheeler E, Davidson, PJ, Jones, TS., Irwin, KS. (2012). Community-based opioid overdose
prevention programs providing naloxone. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61(6):