by: Lee Stoll Updated:
Drug dealers are moving out of back alleys and into schools and family neighborhoods.
And their biggest seller is heroin.
Last month, armed officers met in a popular Redmond park parking lot to plan a midday drug bust.
"Our mission is to safely serve the search warrant and get evidence of trafficking," said the team leader.
The search warrant was for a condo in a waterfront, tree lined complex. The peace was shattered as an officer broke down the locked door, yelling "Police department, search warrant!"
They seized a baggie of heroin and arrested a man suspected of selling it.
"I have grandkids and children coming in and out all the time and I never suspected it would be like this here,” said Fran Lynn, who lives nearby.
An officer on the drug task force told KIRO 7 heroin is now the number one drug in Puget Sound and reaching epidemic use across the country.
"I think it's growing. I think it's getting larger. In three months, we have seized 19,244 grams of heroin,” he said.
That’s more than 42 pounds. Most of it came from two large busts including a Lynnwood brother and sister accused of trafficking heroin for a Mexican cartel. Informants say they saw millions of dollars in cash and pounds of the drug packaged in suburban homes, including one in Shoreline.
In King County, the number of heroin-related deaths jumped from 49 in 2009 to 84 in 2012.
In Snohomish County, the percentage of heroin users in public health detox also jumped from 25.5 percent in 2009 to 64.3 percent in 2012. The average age of addicts is dropping.
"When I've taken people through there and when I've gone through there myself, it looks like a high school,” said Linda Grant, CEP of Evergreen Manor. 75 percent of people in the detox wing are heroin users.
"They usually started using when they were 12 or 13. Some of them were started by their parents,” said Grant.
Pamela Jamieson started using when she was 19. At 60, she’s trying to get clean for the third time.
"I feel groggy. Everything's hurting on me a little bit,” she said.
The mother of three says she abused prescription drugs like OxyContin. After a spike in illegal use, drug manufacturers changed the chemistry, making it impossible to snort or smoke it. That’s when officers say users switched to heroin, which is cheaper and more available.
"I happen to know 10 people who were doing Oxy who are now doing heroin,” said Jamieson.
That includes two of her own adult children. There are waiting lists for treatment beds but Grant says they can’t afford to expand. Under the Affordable Health Care Act, more patients are on Medicaid. Medicaid only pays $160 a day for treatment that costs Grant’s nonprofit $252 a day.
"We tried to educate the legislature about this and the legislature did not act. The Department of Social and Health Services has not acted and it's simply not enough money to pay the bills,” said Grant.
With more addicts in the court and criminal system, officers and Jamieson worry there won’t be much help to break the growing cycle.
"I wish I could stop them. I wish I could explain to them my story but it's not going to stop them,” said Jamieson.