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Heroin deaths at epidemic levels in Snohomish County

New report highlights need for coordinated efforts to disrupt supply and prevent overdoses

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. Heroin and prescription opioid usage in our county is a serious problem. From 2011 to 2013, approximately one out of every five heroin deaths in the state occurred in Snohomish County, a county with only one-tenth of the total population in Washington. In 2013 alone, heroin and prescription opioid overdoses represented two-thirds of the 130 accidental overdose deaths in the county.


Recognizing the need to coordinate efforts, the Snohomish Health District and Snohomish County Department of Human Services recently partnered to look at what these statistics mean for our community.


“Opioid use, and heroin in particular, have become a persistent problem in Snohomish County,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “This report demonstrates the need for multiple partners to intervene at targeted points.


As prescription opioids like oxycodone or hydrocodone were more tightly regulated beginning in 2008, drug users found heroin as a potent and inexpensive replacement. This trend of decreased opioid use and increased heroin use is also seen in local detoxification admission and outpatient treatment programs, and across both youth and adult demographics.


“This is happening right here in our community, and it’s a problem that requires us to work together in order to find meaningful solutions,” said Ken Stark, director of Snohomish County Human Services. “We need to move toward evidence-based practices if we want lasting change.”


Increased awareness of the Good Samaritan Law, additional detoxification capacity, and the evaluation of alternatives to incarceration are some of the ways county officials can begin to address this problem. Another is through the distribution of overdose reversal kits containing naloxone, also known as Narcan. Currently available at four pharmacies within the county, the Health District is rolling out a pilot program to distribute naloxone kits at the needle exchange sites in North Everett and Tulalip.


Goldbaum notes that “while preventing drug use or helping addicts quit is the best long-term solution, naloxone can save lives today.”


To view the full heroin use report, visit


Learn more about naloxone and the needle exchange at


Snohomish Health District works for a safer and healthier community through disease prevention, health promotion, and protection from environmental threats. Incorporated in 1959, the Snohomish Health District is separate from Snohomish County government, although it provides financial support and is an essential partner in many functions. To read more about Snohomish Health District and for important health information, visit