Evan Thompson / The Record During a patrol of the area around Seawall Park, Langley Police Officer Mason Shoudy found a used syringe underneath the Dog House. The needle of the syringe was snapped off at the time of its discovery.

Beating heroin — Island County builds outreach team to combat rising South Whidbey drug problem

A trio of Island County employees from different disciplines will hit the streets next year in search of heroin users and pill takers.

The Island County commissioners agreed to fund a sheriff’s deputy in the 2017 budget who will be solely dedicated to a new outreach program that aims to combat what many people consider an opioid-abuse epidemic in the county, especially on South Whidbey and Camano Island.

It’s not a war on drugs; the intention is not to arrest people. Instead, the deputy will team up with an outreach worker and a public health nurse, two new positions funded by grants.

The goal is to reach out to people dealing with opioid addiction and offer them help — and hope.

Langley Police Chief David Marks said he’s been pushing for just such an outreach program for years and is enthusiastic about the effort. He said his office will be able to help connect outreach professionals to those who need help.

“We need to work together on this,” he said. “The worst thing we can do is nothing.”

The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute reports deaths from opiates increased by 77 percent in Island County between 2004 and 2013; the rate of admissions to publicly funded treatment in the county increased 524.5 percent in that period.

Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson said the county was able to get a $74,000 grant through the five-county North Sound Behavioral Health Organization for an outreach worker who will focus solely on the opioid-using population.

Amerigroup, a health insurance company, provided a grant of about $20,000 for a part-time public health nurse in a pilot project just for Island County. Johnson said the company wants to understand how “on the ground services” can be delivered to a difficult population.

The outreach team will make contact with people suffering from opioid addiction, build rapport, assess the barriers to treatment, provide information about services and help people navigate the complex treatment and support services, according to the grant request.

Beyond helping individuals, the program also seeks to keep users out of jails and emergency rooms, Johnson said.

The outreach model isn’t unique to Island County, Human Services Director Jackie Henderson said. Snohomish County has a similar program in which social workers are embedded with law enforcement; Island County’s program, however, is solely focused on opioid use while the Snohomish County program is more generalized.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said he will assign an experienced deputy to the new position and will hire a patrol deputy to offset the lost position. He wants someone for the outreach effort who knows the community, who the users are and where to find them.

“You wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t know the players, so to speak,” Brown said.

While the outreach program will initially be on South Whidbey and Camano, it will likely expand to the rest of the county if successful, officials said.

While there are no studies to show that there’s more opioid addiction on South Whidbey, as opposed to the rest of the island, the community on the South End has certainly been very vocal about the concern, according to Marks.

The evidence of heroin use can be obvious. Marks asked the Langley City Council earlier this year to close Seawall Park at night after officers found 40 syringes in the park, a hang-out for users after dark. Henderson said the outreach team will visit places where homeless people camp and homes where users congregate.

Other use is more hidden. One of the most surprising things about opioid addiction, said Marks, is the number of functioning addicts in the community. He said many are people who one might not suspect of using heroin.

The common story of addiction has become a cliche, but it often reflects reality: Someone gets addicted to pain pills after a surgery or injury and turns to heroin after getting cut off by a doctor.

Lt. Evan Tingstad with the Island County Sheriff’s Office, who works on South Whidbey, said it seems like heroin has replaced methamphetamine as the drug of choice on the island. It used to be rare to get a call of a heroin overdose, but it’s a different matter nowadays. Ambulance crews carry Narcan, an antidote to heroin that’s used all too often — and with amazingly instant results.

A Clinton man who recently lost his brother to a heroin overdose is leading a petition effort for all first responders on Whidbey to carry Narcan.

Tingstad said he’s also hopeful that the outreach program can help those struggling with addiction. He’s in favor of any new approach. He said the drugs change people’s brains, resetting them to a “new normal.” Kicking the habit isn’t just a question of willpower.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” he said. “We can’t just keep throwing them in jail. When they get out, they’re still addicted.”

Evan Thompson / The Record Langley Police Officer Mason Shoudy reaches down to pick up a syringe found underneath the Dog House in Langley.

Evan Thompson / The Record A used syringe was found underneath the patio deck of the Dog House in Langley during a patrol by Langley Police Officer Mason Shoudy on Thursday, Oct. 4.

More in News

Langley man airlifted after rollover crash

A Langley resident was airlifted for treatment after rolling his 1995 Ford… Continue reading

Historical society to lead presentation about Gabelein family history

Pick up a local phone book. Thumb to the page with the… Continue reading

Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group
                                The Kettles trails were acquired by Island County in 1996 using funds from the conservation futures program. The county is now accepting applications for the 2018 award cycle, but a low fund balance may limit the acceptance of new projects.
No guarantees for awarding of conservation futures funds

The Island County Conservation Futures Program is now accepting applications from eligible… Continue reading

No injuries in pair of crashes

Two car crashes on Wednesday in Clinton did not result in any… Continue reading

Firefighter stops chicken coop fire, helps save Langley home

A quick response by a local firefighter may have helped save a… Continue reading

Photo provided
                                A evidence photo taken by police shows a deputy’s AR-15 rifle that was involved in a police-related shooting on North Whidbey in September.
Review: Deputy justified in fatal shooting

A deputy was justified in fatally shooting Navy sailor Nicholas K. Perkins… Continue reading

Planning Commission member Tracy Gilroy speaks during a meeting on Monday. The commission voted to approve amendments made in response to a settlement agreement between Island County and the Whidbey Island Environmental Action Network. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times
Forest practices changes heading to board

Island County Planning Commission voted Monday to amend code related to forest… Continue reading

Dancing Fish Farm to buzz with The Bee Eaters fiddlers

Acoustic concert features fiddling siblings

Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News Group
                                John Bagley, left, makes a preliminary appearance in Island County Superior Court Monday. He’s accused of pawning a telescope stolen from a robotics club.
Man arrested for pawning robotics club’s telescope

A man faces a felony charge after getting caught pawning a telescope… Continue reading

Most Read