Heroin is becoming ‘a problem’ in Issaquah
June 4, 2013
By Peter Clark
A growing number of possession, dealing and overdose cases in Issaquah point to a shifting trend in heroin usage.
A number of local entities, including police, school and emergency rescue officials, said the situation, which has extended to affect a wide area, has only slow and complicated solutions.
Police Chief Paul Ayers said in an interview that the presence of the hard narcotic has seen a marked increase in the city in the past year. Pointing to the number of arrests local police make that involve heroin possession and lengthy dealing investigations, he said heroin has taken the place of a larger methamphetamine presence that existed previously.
“I would call it a problem. It appears that the use of heroin has risen over the meth usage,” he said, adding that he did not want to speculate on specifics. “We don’t have real accurate information on it.”
With quick growth in Issaquah’s population, he said the department expected an equal increase in the presence of drug-related crimes in the area. However, he did not expect the level of heroin they have been dealing with.
Interestingly, Ayers said that there does not seem to be a specific population demographic that accounts for most of the usage. From teenagers to middle-aged people, from rich to poor, he said the prevalence has grown across the board.
“We’re seeing overdoses in all parts of the city,” he said. “It doesn’t have any issue with race or economics.”
The significant increase in heroin use was corroborated by Eastside Fire & Rescue. In a report presented last month to the school board and City Council, Deputy Chief of Operations Greg Tryon detailed the growing number of calls regarding heroin overdose cases. His chart broke them down by age groups.
“The initial trend is that most groups stay within the same range, with the exception of the 19-30 and the 31-50 age groups,” he said. “Those are continuing to rise.”
Tryon said he was moved to bring the data together because it was an issue that he had noticed, and he began to hear the same from other departments.
“You start to hear other divisions being affected by it,” he said, giving an example of the Parks & Recreation Department finding needles. “It seems that this is something different than we’re used to seeing.”
Though the numbers are not huge on Tryon’s chart, he focused on the increase in percentages. From a total of 26 overdoses in the city limits of Issaquah in 2008, his information finds that there were 44 in 2012, a 69 percent increase. For the most prominent age group, 19- to 30-year-olds, the report is even more alarming.
Within that demographic, there were two overdoses in 2008, but that spiked to 18 last year, an increase of 800 percent. He said the numbers only detail why an ambulance was dispatched and do not represent how many of the overdoses resulted in death.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office does not have numbers for heroin deaths in specific cities.
In order to combat the situation, the police department has actively been involved in larger investigations into the source of the drug. Ayers said that it wasn’t a price factor that has led to the upsurge; heroin is still an expensive drug compared to methamphetamine. Rather, availability and cultural trends were what he diagnosed as the main reasons.
With that in mind, the department continues to lead ongoing large-scale investigations into the trafficking of heroin in the community. Though work of that sort does take some time to provide results, Ayers said department officials have been pleased with the strides they have made.
“We’ve had some pretty successful investigations regarding heroin dealers,” he said, adding that he wants the public to be aware of the extensive measures the department has to take to conduct them. “They’re very complicated with a lot of search warrants involved. But it’s a high priority for us.”
To address the cultural aspect of heroin usage, the department has been heavily involved with local high schools, trying to emphasis drug awareness with at-risk teens. Issaquah School District spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said the schools have been very thankful for the police dedication to their students.
“The school district is deeply interested in our students’ health,” she said. She said a partnership with the police department’s student resource officer as well as the Issaquah Community Network has been extremely helpful. Both agencies have assisted in education, and the Issaquah Community Network has provided alternative for healthy living among students through its Drug Free Community Coalition.
“Overall, it’s something that the district is aware of because it’s something we’ve seen,” she said. “We want to do everything possible to stop the problem.”
Ayers said that police have specifically targeted programs to educate students about the effects of dangerous narcotics and the school district has been eager to collaborate.
The spread of heroin has changed the perceptions of local responders and service providers to the current drug climate, but it has not changed what they need most from the public.
“All of the cities that I’ve spoken to are seeing the same issues,” Ayers said. “The biggest thing we can encourage people to do is to call us. Make us aware of what’s going on. We need to know that.”
Call the department at 837-3200.