State tribal leaders address escalating opioid crisis

State tribal leaders convened Monday in Olympia to address the escalating opioid crisis.

The Lummi Nation’s Health Department reveals that a staggering 80 percent of substance-related emergency visits involved fentanyl.

Washington is on the verge of significant alterations to its drug possession laws, set to take effect in just over a month.

This new law creates a system of pre-trial diversion into treatment.

Alison Holcomb with the ACLU of Washington believes the demand for both jail space and treatment facilities will increase.

She reports the administrative office of the courts anticipates an additional 12,000 cases will be filed each year as a result of this law.

“The problem is, we’ve spent so much time and money building up police forces and prosecutors and jails for people that use drugs,” said Holcomb. “We haven’t built the infrastructure that will serve all the people who now have substance use disorders.”

Rex Rempel is a professor of behavioral health and social services at Lake Washington Institute of Technology.

Rempel says in the Seattle area alone, there are more than a hundred job openings for workers in the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders.

He believes it will take a while to fill these positions due to a long-standing workforce shortage.

“Behavioral health has been short-staffed for many years, well proceeding the pandemic,” said Rempel. “What the federal government and what the state offer are just not enough to provide competitive salaries in an expensive environment.”

Hans Erchinger-Davis, representing Bellingham’s Lighthouse Mission, highlights the significant treatment and shelter gaps in the community.

“The community has a pretty sizeable gap when it comes to treatment,” said Erchinger-Davis. “It also has a sizeable gap when it comes to shelter beds.”

Erchinger-Davis believes overdoses and deaths decreased following Bellingham City Council brought forth its own public drug use ban three weeks ago.

“It takes incarceration, it takes natural consequences for people to actually get motivated for change,” said Erchinger-Davis.

The new law is slated to take effect on July 1st.