OLYMPIA, Wash .— Heroin users should notice some changes around Olympia and Thurston County.
Since January, city and county officials have changed laws and expanded services to fight what health officials consider a growing heroin epidemic.
According to the county, heroin use has increased by 50 percent among drug users seeking addiction treatment since 2008 and users are getting younger.
”People are looking for a silver bullet and the answer to many of the problems is silver buckshot. You need to do a lot of things and you need to do them at once,” said Don Sloma, Thurston County’s Director of Public Health and Social Services.
Sloma and other health officials presented city and county leaders with a list of recommendations to help the county kick its heroin habit in January.
Downtown Olympia is now considered a “drug free zone,” meaning drug dealers caught downtown face longer prison sentences.
This weekend Olympia police are increasing foot patrols downtown and dark alleys are about to get new lights.
The county allowed Olympia’s only methadone clinic to nearly double in size.
The director of Evergreen Treatment Services’ South Sound Clinic Doug Stenchever said there’s no shortage of demand for services.
”It concerns me the number keeps going up and that we’re seeing younger and younger kids going to heroin,” said Stenchever.
The county is about to install a used needle drop box outside the needle exchange in Olympia.
It will allow users to place their used needles in a safe place 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The needle exchange office is only open 10 hours a week.
Malika Lamont is the specialist who runs the exchange. Some communities do not allow exchanges. Lamont considers exchanges part of the solution. Drug counselors work and volunteer at the exchange and have been able to get some users to get into treatment.
”It’s going to take a community response and all of us working together in order to meet the needs of people in a rough spot,” said Lamont.