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Washington - officially known as "The Evergreen State" due to its incredible average annual rainfall (roughly 73 inches per year,) boasts over 40,000 miles of rivers and streams, and more than 8,000 lakes! It's also well-known as a hub for the tech industry, as its home to Microsoft, Amazon, and many other giant players in the digital and e-commerce world. But sadly Washington State is quickly becoming known for something else far less prestigious- a rising tide of drug and alcohol addiction.
Washington boasts a relatively comfortable average annual income of $93,847 and thus one might be tempted to think that it had been spared the wave of drug addiction affecting poorer states, but nothing could be further from the truth. Approximately 10.82 percent of Washington residents reported past-month use of illicit drugs, and in 2009, Washington drug-induced deaths (15.5 per 100,000 population) exceeded the national rate (12.8 per 100,000). 1,031 people died in Washington in 2009 as a direct consequence of drug use, which is also higher than the number of people who died from motor vehicle accidents (574) and firearms (623) in the same year. Despite the state being fairly well-off in terms of resources, substance abuse in Washington gives major cause for concern.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics in Washington, we quickly realize that it's complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse affects the entire country, and no state in the US has been spared, including The Evergreen State. In 2016 the United States had over 60,000 overdoses, (a rate of 175 people dying per day,) and when we examine the numbers, we see that overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents or guns. And, although poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, correlation is not causation. This doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically (like many in Washington) are less likely to become addicted; in fact sometimes wealthy people are thrown into poverty directly because of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. And, if someone has been fired from an old job, it can become a great deal harder to get a new one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, prescription painkiller (opioid) addiction has blown mercilessly through Washington, wreaking havoc on communities and ripping apart whole families. In Washington, an estimated 63% of drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018?-a total of 737 (and rate of 9.4!) Opioid addiction is particularly menacing because, due to the highly addictive nature of the drugs, it can sneak up on even the most careful of people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Just as in the rest of the country, the root of the opioid problem in Washington stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive pills when, in many cases, lesser drugs like Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. Opioids may seem safe because a doctor prescribes them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a path to full-on dependency. In 2018, Washington providers wrote 49.3 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people! Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be.
Sadly many Washington residents have discovered that abusing prescription painkillers can lead to using even more dangerous substances. Federal and state regulations now try to limit and track the prescribing of opioids, (a valiant effort) but it has had the unintended effect of causing the use of street drugs like heroin (which is cheaper to obtain on the streets and gives a similar high) to skyrocket. And, the danger to substance abusers in Washington doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug addicts often then turn to incredibly dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, (which is far stronger than heroin) and the result is usually a body bag. Initially, most users don't intentionally seek out fentanyl, but unfortunately once a person has been exposed to a higher toxicity of a drug, the brain chemistry is altered further, and users will seek out the most potent form. At the height of addiction, users are wholly unable to calculate the risk and are willing to go to any length to obtain the high. In the United States as a whole, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
Although the drug and alcohol abuse situation looks bleak by the numbers, the good news for Washington residents struggling with addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. We are more connected now than we have ever been, and The Evergreen State has an abundance of resources to fit every need, whether you just want counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or are seeking full-on detox services. The important part is acknowledging the forces holding you back so you can begin the journey towards breaking free of them. This is the first step toward the rest of your life. As one of Washington's favorite sons once said:
Washington State Facts
Washington Population: 5,893,617
Law Enforcement Officers in Washington: 11,304
Washington Prison Population: 28,300
Washington Probation Population: 165,711
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 30
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Washington
Cocaine: 310.0 kgs.
Heroin: 24.1 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 73.0 kgs.
Marijuana: 8,382.6 kgs.
Ecstasy: 162,661 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 391 (DEA, state, and local)
Washington Drug Situation: Sharing a border with Canada, Washington is a transshipment point for drugs and monies entering Canada, as well as a Canadian pseudoephedrine, Canadian marijuana (BC Bud), and other drugs entering the United States. Washington has severe clandestine methamphetamine laboratory problems. Mexican National poly-drug organizations dominate the drug trade and many have added MDMA as a drug they can now supply. The greater Yakima Valley is home to large scale poly-drug trafficking organizations responsible for the distribution of drugs throughout the United States.
Cocaine in Washington: Cocaine and crack cocaine are readily available. Crack cocaine is largely limited to inner city areas. Cocaine is consumed in the state, and smuggled into Canada for redistribution, where it commands a higher price than in the United States. According to a recent Royal Canadian Mounted Police report, up to 24 tons of cocaine enter Canada each year. BC Bud marijuana from British Columbia, Canada is sold or traded in the United States for cocaine to be sold in Canada.
Heroin in Washington: Mexican black tar and brown heroin are the primary types of heroin found throughout Washington. Mexican poly-drug trafficking organizations remain the primary source of black tar heroin in Washington. Heroin is smuggled from Mexico to Washington by a variety of methods, including vehicles equipped with concealed compartments.
Methamphetamine in Washington: Methamphetamine is one of the most widely abused controlled substances in Washington. Two "varieties" are generally encountered; Mexican methamphetamine, which is either manufactured locally or obtained from sources in Mexico, California, or other Southwest Border States, and methamphetamine which is produced locally by area violators. Of the two types, Mexican methamphetamine continues to flood the market. Methamphetamine is available in multi-kilogram amounts throughout the state. Canadian pseudoephedrine, utilized in the manufacture of methamphetamine, is frequently seized at clandestine laboratory sites. Washington State continues to see an influx of crystal “ice” methamphetamine.
Club Drugs in Washington: MDMA (Ecstasy) is smuggled into the state from elsewhere in the country, Canada, and Europe. Club drugs are growing in popularity across the state, and have been targeted in several successful investigations by the DEA. Smuggling methods have included MDMA shipped in express mail packages, concealed in lumber, hidden compartments in vehicles, and transported in luggage on international or domestic flights. Mexican National poly-drug traffickers have become more involved in MDMA trade in Washington.
Marijuana in Washington: Marijuana is readily available in multi-pound quantities throughout the state. Three types are normally encountered: locally grown (either from indoor or outdoor grow operations), Canadian BC Bud from British Columbia, and Mexican marijuana. Of these varieties, locally grown sinsemilla and BC Bud are preferred, because they have a far superior THC content than Mexican grown marijuana. Canadian BC Bud is the most prevalent variety in many areas, given the proximity to the border and the extent of cross border smuggling. BC Bud marijuana is sold or traded in the United States for cocaine to be sold in Canada. The arid and warm mountainous areas of Eastern Washington are being utilized by Mexican National organizations to grow multi-thousand plants of marijuana. These large scale marijuana gardens have been found on National Forest land and Native American Tribal lands.
Other Drugs in Washington: The primary method of pharmaceutical drug diversion continues to be forgery and telephone prescriptions by non-registrants. Illegal dispensing and prescribing by practitioners still exists in the state. OxyContin is often the target of criminals involved in burglary and armed robbery. Sting operations in Washington State have found high school students selling Oxycontin, cocaine, and marijuana. Often these drugs were purchased over the internet.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been 12 MET deployments in the State of Washington since the inception of the program: Puyallup, Everett, Chehalis, Thurston/Yelm, Seattle, Lakewood, Lynnwood, Vancouver, Bremerton, Pierce County, Auburn, and Snohomish.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There has been one RET deployment in the State of Washington since the inception of the program, in Seattle.