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Preliminary report: opioid use up in Pierce County

July 11, 2016

Deaths from opioid overdoses continue to rise

Heroin use behind increase in opioid cases. Medically based treatment needed to effectively address opioid epidemic.

TACOMA, Wash. – The opioid epidemic ravaging communities across the country has hit Pierce County. A new report Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department commissioned shows the scope of the problem here.

The Health Department’s Treatment Services program offers people in recovery a medically based approach to deal with their addiction. Use of opioids (heroin and prescription painkillers like oxycodone) can lead to negative consequences – such as overdoses, medical and mental health impacts, and crime – that put a social and financial burden on a community.

“People from all walks of life experience a transformation while in our program,” said Christina Abby, manager of the Health Department’s Treatment Services program. “They learn to manage their addiction and become productive professionals, students, and parents,” Abby said.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI) produced the report. Highlights of findings for Pierce County show increases in:

  • Death Rate – 704 people died from opioid overdoses between 2005-2014 (52 deaths in 2005, 68 in 2014).
  • First-Time Admissions for Treatment – 3,424 people sought treatment for opioid addiction between 2002-2015 (129 in 2002, 438 in 2015).
  • Police Evidence Testing Positive for Opioids– 1,042 cases between 2002-2015 (63 in 2002, 91 in 2015).

Trends for Pierce County are similar to those in King County and across the state.

“A majority of heroin users surveyed in Pierce County in 2015 said they were initially hooked on opioid medications then turned to heroin, a cheaper more readily available method to achieve a high similar to opioid medications,” said Caleb Banta-Green, senior research scientist at the University of Washington’s ADAI. “With this report, we want to give the public a clear picture of the epidemic in Pierce County so everyone can work together to save lives,” Banta-Green said.

According to Banta-Green, medical research supports medically based treatment programs, such as the one at the Health Department that uses methadone to help support recovery.

To view the preliminary report, go to: Expect to see the full report later this summer.

How to Keep Children Away from Opioid Medications?

Parents who keep prescription opioid medications in their medicine cabinets offer children easy access to the dangerous and potentially deadly drugs. Banta-Green encourages adults with opioid medications:

  • Talk to their health care provider about whether they need opioid medications; if so, for how long.
  • Store opioid medications at home in secure locations.
  • Remove opioid medications from the home as soon as they no longer need them.

Safely dispose of unneeded prescription painkillers and other medications at locations across Pierce County:

Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager
(253) 798-2853, (253) 405-6822 (cell/text),
Steve Metcalf, Communications Specialist
(253) 798-6540, (253) 345-8238, (cell/text),

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