New opioid treatment center set to open this summer

As the heroin epidemic moves out of the cities and into the suburbs, more and more people in and around our community are affected by opiate addiction, though the treatment options in our area remain perilously low.

As the heroin epidemic moves out of the cities and into the suburbs, more and more people in and around our community are affected by opiate addiction, though the treatment options in our area remain perilously low.

“What used to be known as city problems are moving,” Brad Finegood, assistant division director of King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division said at the City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, adding “if they have to travel for treatment, they’re not going to get treatment.”

To help battle the growing issue, Evergreen Treatment Services is about ready to open a new facility that could treat hundreds of local residents dealing with opioid addiction.

The new center, located at the IDC Medical Plaza on the Renton side of the 43rd Street border with Kent, is expected to open around Aug. 1.

The center should not only help the estimated 500-1,000 people traveling north to Seattle each day for medical treatment to deal with their addiction, but the untold number of others for whom traveling is not an option.

“We also know there’s a large unmedicated need for treatment down here,” Evergreen Executive Director Molly Carney told the council.

According to statistics provided by Finegood, opiate-related deaths in South King County increased 107 percent from a rate of 4.9 per 100,000 in 1998 to 10 in 100,000 in 2013. In 2014 there were 156 heroin-involved deaths in the county, the most ever. Since 2010, treatment admissions for heroin has doubled, including a 32 percent jump from 2013-2014.

Finegood also provided statistics showing that the time from the age of first use to the time when people seek treatment is about 12 years in South King County, a longer duration than any other part of the county outside of the city of Seattle.

The Evergreen Treatment Center will offer two drugs to help battle opioid addiction, methadone and buprenorphine, known by its brand name Suboxone. According to Carney, everyone who comes to Evergreen for treatment does so voluntarily. Six days a week, patients consume their liquid medicine in front of a registered nurse, who then makes them open their mouth to prove they swallowed the drug. Carney was clear the replacement drugs do not get the patients “high” but instead simply smooth the highs and lows of dealing with physical addiction.

Each patient is also given a random urine screen once per month and is assigned to work with medical providers and counselors.

“All of our patients are required to engage in counseling,” she said, calling the program a “very intensive form of treatment.”

However, Carney also told the council that while the duration of treatment varies by the patient, “many of our patients are with us for an extended period of time.”

Security is also a top concern for the center, she said. The center plans to post three full-time public safety officers at the site. There will be one insides the facility, one at the door and one who keeps an eye on the parking lot and greenbelt adjacent to the building.

City councilmember and Community Services Committee Chair Carol Ann Witschi said this week said that after her questions about the treatment and security were answered, she is on board with the new center.

“I don’t foresee any issues,” Witschi said this week. “I think it will reduce crime and I think it will help get people back in the workforce.”

Witschi called opioids a “silent epidemic.”

“The signs (of addiction) are not always evident,” she said, citing a story told by Finegood, a drug counselor, about the overdose death of his brother, whom he did not know had a problem.

“It’s good to have something local so people can get some treatment,” Witschi said.

Community Services Department Manager Karen Bergsvik agreed, especially with news that the methadone clinic located in the Highlands is moving to Kent this summer.

“So essentially there would be no methadone treatment services for Renton residents,” she said.

Bergsvik said she has seen a “rising need that’s new to the area,” especially in homeless camps where she has seen more syringes of late than years prior.

The Evergreen Treatment Center is scheduled to open Aug. 1. Two public hearings are mandated by law as part of the center’s accreditation process in July. They have not yet been scheduled.

Reach Editor Brian Beckley at 425-336-4959.