The King County Heroin and Opioid Addiction Task Force, formed in response to the skyrocketing number of heroin-related deaths in the county, this week brought the conversation about addiction and recovery to the people.
Task members invited residents from South King County to a community meeting to discuss heroin and prescription opiate overdose and addiction on Tuesday, May 31.
The meeting at Renton Community Center was attended by more than 100 community members.
“We thought Renton would be a good place with Mayor Law being a co-convener, and it being a good spot between South of King County and Seattle area. We thought it would have a good scope,” said Brad Finegood, co-chair of the task force.
Co-conveners of the task force, Renton Mayor Denis Law and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, also attended the meeting
“Clearly one of the big things we’re dealing with is the unbelievable explosion of heroin and opiate abuse….Hopefully we, as a region, can come up with some answers to address this growing problem,” said Law in his opening statement at the meeting.
“It is an epidemic in our communities, and something we need to address,” said Backus. “This is not just a Seattle issue. There are some people and there are some mayors and councils in the cities around here that don’t believe heroin and opiates are a problem. They don’t believe that it’s happening in their schools, in their parks and in their cities… We need to make sure to remove the stigma and that we’re not embarrassed that this is happening in our cities, that we’re addressing this straight on, and we’re tackling this issue.”
Following opening remarks from the mayors, residents broke out into dozens of small groups. Main topics that were discussed included treatment expansion and enhancement, user health and overdose prevention, and primary prevention. Each group was facilitated by a member of the task force. Participants were allowed to switch from each group after a brief intermission.
The task force is scheduled to meet today, Friday, June 3, to debrief and discuss findings from the meeting. According to Finegood, the meeting is a helpful framework for task force in creating their recommendation to identify steps to prevent opioid addiction and improve opioid use disorder outcomes.
“When we get to forming our recommendations, we can understand what the community is talking about,” said Finegood.
The task force includes more than 30 members representing multiple disciplines, such as public health, human service agencies, criminal justice, cities, hospitals, treatment providers and others. Renton Police Chief Kevin Milosevich is a member of the task force.
The task force plans to expand treatment capacity, increase access to evidence-based treatment options, expand prevention efforts and increase public awareness and understanding of opiate addiction.
According to the county, opiate-related deaths have tripled in 2009 and more people enter detox for heroin than they do for alcohol. In 2014, 156 heroin-related deaths were recorded, a 58 percent increase from the previous year.
“Public support is going to be very important,” said Finegood in a prior interview. “One of the biggest battles we are fighting is stigma.”