drug addiction

MOLLY MCGUIRE

A University of Washington report on drug addiction in King County confirms that heroin use is still on the rise. But for the first time, researchers say opioid-related deaths are leveling off.

Zac Talbott sees the irony of running an opioid treatment program from a former doctor's office.

"The funny thing is, a lot of patients are like, 'This is where I first started getting prescribed pain pills,' " Talbott says.

Now, the Tennessee native says those same patients are coming to his clinic in Chatsworth, Ga., a small city about a half-hour south of the Tennessee border, to fight their addiction to those very pills.

Scientists and doctors say the case is clear: The best way to tackle the country's opioid epidemic is to get more people on medications that have been proven in studies to reduce relapses and, ultimately, overdoses.

Yet, only a fraction of the more than 4 million people believed to abuse prescription painkillers or heroin in the U.S. are being given what's called medication-assisted treatment.

Michael Burghardt couldn't sleep. His legs were shaking, his bones ached and he couldn't stop throwing up.

Burghardt was in the Valley Street Jail in Manchester, N.H. This was his 11th stay at the jail in the last 12 years. There had been charges for driving without a license, and arguments where the police were called. This time, Burghardt was in after an arrest for transporting drugs in a motor vehicle.

When she was 17, Tracey Helton Mitchell was prescribed an opioid pain killer after getting her wisdom teeth extracted. The medicine helped her deal with the pain related to the extraction, but when the prescription ran out, her desire for its euphoric high remained. That's when she turned to heroin.

Molly McGuire

Heroin use in King County is at epidemic levels. Government and public health officials say something needs to be done. So, they’re forming a task force.

wstryder / Flickr

There are two versions of this story.

One is the story of how drug-abuse involving heroin has spiked upward, especially in young adults, over the past decade. Drug experts say people end up on heroin as a last resort, after getting addicted to prescription painkillers.

That version is in the news this week, and has made headlines for the past few years, when annual drug trends come out.

Alexodus via Compfight / Flickr via Compfight

How do you build a whole new industry – and undermine a black market -- without increasing its customer base?  

That’s the challenge state regulators are facing as they write the rules that will govern recreational marijuana in Washington. The American Civil Liberties Union is urging caution.

Ilhu Industries / Flickr

Police and federal agents arrested 21 people Tuesday in raids in the Seattle area and northern California to bust a ring accused of illegally distributing the painkiller oxycodone.

Not as many people are dying from prescription drug overdoses in Washington – but heroin abuse appears to be spiking higher. Those figures come from an annual report on drug abuse in the state.

Heroin abuse peaked in the 1990s. Since then, it's been a problem primarily for aging drug-addicts. But Caleb Banta-Green of the UW’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute says it's making a comeback among younger people:

You might be tempted to chuckle about some Norwegian researchers peering back at experiments done during the '60s and '70s with LSD as a treatment for alcoholism.

But don't.

Their rigorous analysis, combining data from six different studies, concludes that one dose of the hallucinogenic drug might just help.

Ashley Rose / Flickr

You've probably heard the under-world of drug abuse has taken on a new face over the past decade, with the rise of prescription pill addicts.

The story is more nuanced than that. But before looking at the nuance, here are a few surprising facts and a disturbing trend.

There’s a glimmer of hope in the struggle against prescription drug abuse.  For the first time, the number of overdose deaths from painkillers has gone down in King County. It’s also fallen statewide.

Unfortunately, people hooked on painkillers may be turning to heroin. Heroin abuse used to be confined to Washington's cities -- primarily Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and Everett. Now, it's appearing for the first time in small towns and rural areas.

KPLU's complete report.

SuperFantastic (Bruce) / flickr.com

Why were "bath salts" for sale in head shops? Because they contained stimulants known as substituted cathinones that can affect user behavior and judgment. They've been growing in popularity as a legal alternative to cocaine or methamphetamine.

As of April 15th, they're no longer legal in Washington; the state Board of Pharmacy has approved emergency rules classifying the salts as Class I controlled substances, banning their manufacture, sale, delivery and possession.

AP

Drug courts have long been viewed as a success.  The courts give drug offenders charged with non-violent crimes the option of treatment rather than prison.

The courts, including those in Washington State, have proven effective in reducing repeat offenses. But some critics say too much money is being poured into drug courts.

A diversion program intended to keep drug abusers and troubled mentally ill people out of hospitals and jails has run into opposition.  Neighbors of a proposed new facility in Seattle don’t want it.  They say the "Jackson Park" area between Rainier Valley and the Central District already has enough challenges and has become a dumping ground.