Handcuffs and jail cells won’t solve opioid crisis (02/04/2018 Herald Commentary)

Commentary: Handcuffs and jail cells won’t solve opioid crisis

It’s more humane — and cost-effective — if we connect those with addictions to treatment and services.

Editor’s note: The is the second in a weekly series of commentaries from different perspectives regarding the response to the opioid crisis in Snohomish County.

By Ty Trenary

Back when I was working in patrol, heroin and the misuse of prescription opioids began creeping into Snohomish County communities. I believed (like so many of my fellow law enforcement officers) that addicts and low-level offenders needed to be taken off the streets and thrown in jail. I know that many in the county still share this sentiment, based on the comments posted on Sheriff’s Office social media accounts:

“Arrest them. If they are shooting up they are criminals.”

“Let the junkies die. … Slowly weed them out which will cut down the homeless numbers.”

“Stop spending tax money on helping these worthless drug addicts!!”

It seemed clear that we just needed to focus our efforts on tracking down the source (dealers) and removing offenders from the community.

That was more than 10 years ago. Not only do we still have people using heroin and abusing prescription drugs, the problem has gotten worse. In 2006, opioid-related drug cases made up 12.5 percent of the total caseload statewide. In 2016, it was over 35 percent. That means over a third of all law enforcement drug cases in Washington state, opioids (primarily heroin) are the prominent drug. More shocking still is that the number of opioid-related deaths in Snohomish County is more than two and a half times the number of motor vehicle fatalities for the past six years; 635 opioid deaths compared to 239 traffic deaths, 2011 through 2016.