Study: Heroin overdoses have doubled in Washington

by: Kevin McCarty Updated:

A new study by the University of Washington shows that heroin use and heroin-related overdose deaths have nearly doubled in Washington over the last decade. And some drug addiction specialists say in many cases the use of heroin started can be traced to the legal use of prescription painkillers.

The report entitled "Heroin Trends Across Washington State" compared heroin- and opiate-related overdose deaths between the years 2000 to 2002 and the years 2009 to 2011. The study showed statewide overdose deaths increased from 931 more than 10 years ago to 1,821 by the end of the decade.

Sam Agnew, the methadone program coordinator with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department told KIRO-7 in many cases the new addicts developed an addiction while using powerful prescription painkillers for legitimate injuries.

"Once their prescriber is no longer able to prescribe for them they find themselves in a real bind, but the addiction doesn't go away," said Agnew. Agnew said he's seeing an increasing number of young people who have moved to heroin after recovering. "Once they're tapped out financially or for other reasons then they start to look at heroin because it's a cheaper option.

Pierce County has seen overdose-related deaths increase from 127 in 2000 to 2002 to 232 deaths in 2009 to 2011.

KIRO 7 obtained Pierce County Sheriff's Department and Graham Fire Department incident reports of one case where four people overdosed on heroin at a Graham home on Memorial Day. A man and woman at the home refused to talk about the incident. When asked about the people a woman simply said "Yeah, everyone's OK."

Incident reports show all four survived.

Read more in this KIRO 7 special report, in which the Drug Enforcement Administration said the problem begins with prescription painkillers.