Editorials

Puyallup can’t duck its drug addiction problem

From the editorial board

Many heroin addicts started out with an addiction to prescription painkillers. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that drug overdoses in the U.S. rose again in 2014, driven by surges in deaths from heroin and opioids such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. Overall, overdose deaths in the U.S. surpassed 47,000 – up 7 percent from 2013.
Many heroin addicts started out with an addiction to prescription painkillers. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that drug overdoses in the U.S. rose again in 2014, driven by surges in deaths from heroin and opioids such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. Overall, overdose deaths in the U.S. surpassed 47,000 – up 7 percent from 2013. Associated Press file, 2013

At a Puyallup City Council meeting Tuesday, citizens offered several reasons for opposing methadone maintenance treatment proposed for their community.

The least realistic one was that it would attract addicts to Puyallup.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but drug addicts are already in Puyallup — and in many suburban and rural areas of the nation. Heroin addiction, once considered an urban problem, is making strong inroads in suburbia.

One big reason: People got addicted to opioid painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin, then switched to relatively cheap heroin when the pills became harder to obtain without a prescription.

According to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department data, more than 100 Puyallup residents are already getting methadone maintenance treatment for addiction to heroin and opioids at a clinic near Tacoma’s Lincoln District. Many others travel to another treatment center in Lakewood.

How many more Puyallup residents might seek treatment — and not risk becoming yet one more drug overdose statistic — if they were able to get help closer to home?

National health data show that only one in nine addicts is getting some kind of treatment. If that ratio holds true in Puyallup, the community has at least another 800 addicts who are not being treated.

Many of those addicts desperately want help, but there aren’t enough treatment opportunities. In Puyallup, methadone treatment is being proposed at an existing clinic, Northwest Integrated Health, located in a commercial area near South Hill Mall. That clinic currently treats about 250 patients and is seeking to offer an accredited, regulated methadone maintenance program. It would be subject to a probationary period and audited every three years.

Methadone is a synthetic painkiller and, like heroin and opioids, it is addictive. But it is administered in a safe clinic setting where patients are observed and offered services that might help them eventually shed their addiction. The methadone strength can be gradually decreased to help that process.

Patients typically visit the clinic in the morning to get a dose of methadone, which is taken orally. Unless they have scheduled therapy, they leave the premises. Many then go to work.

Puyallup city officials are now considering whether to approve the clinic’s land-use change proposal and is in a fact-facting period that will end in early February.

One fact it should consider: Failure to treat drug addiction is not a viable option.

Addiction doesn’t just hurt individuals and families; it hurts communities when drug addicts spread disease, give birth to addicted babies and commit crimes to pay for illegal drugs. It fills prison with people who often re-offend after they get out. The health department’s program manager, Christina Abby, says that the Tacoma methadone clinic’s patients have only a 1 percent re-incarceration rate.

Abby says that every $100,000 invested in methadone treatment saves $700,000 in law enforcement costs. That’s a wise, humane investment.

Puyallup, like many cities, has an addiction problem. The question is whether it will own its problem or continue outsourcing it to Tacoma and Lakewood.

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