Opioid crisis hits Tri-Cities, addicting a new generation
Opioid usage in America has been a growing problem for the last few years, especially for teens. There are thousands of people addicted to opiates in Eastern Washington.
Somerset Counseling Center, the largest substance abuse agency in the Tri-Cities, is seeing an influx of people addicted to opioid drugs for a variety of reasons, including availability.
“The drug market is just flooded with opiates,” said Somerset Executive Director Jaime Carson.
In the last year, Greater Columbia Behavior Health approved more than 1,300 authorizations for medicaid to people whose primary drug of choice is opiates. This number reflects people in just ten Eastern Washington counties, the biggest are Benton and Yakima counties.
“T hat didn’t even capture the number of people who are using multiple substances and opiates are part of that,” said Carson.
Carson said pain medications like oxycodone and heroin are available and cheap.
“There has been a huge surge in access to emergency care and overdoses. People started noticing because people started dying and I think that makes it a little bit more real,” said Carson.
The Somerset Counseling Center partners with other community programs to treat addicted teens and adults. In their fourteen years of business, the amount of patients has exploded. They went from just two counselors to twelve.
“Research has shown over the years that group counseling is the most effective for substance use treatment,” said Carson.
Carson said in the last year, they have seen a 25 percent increase in patients with opiates as their primary drug, and a large rise with teens.
“Five kids over a six month period came in having smoked a couple times, drank once and then went straight to IV heroin. We know that’s a significant change in the use trends in our nation,” said Carson.
This generation of teens turning to riskier drugs so quickly is a new phenomenon.
The Benton County jail has seen 59 inmates arrive addicted to opiates this year. Those inmates are placed on Opioid Drug Withdrawl Protocols. The Sheriff’s office said they have seen an increase over the years.
The majority of individuals who come to jail addicted to opiates are ages 20-30.
But there has also been a surge in people seeking recovery. Carson said this has a lot to do with the Affordable Care Act.
“It opened up Medicaid expansion to people who previously couldn’t get insurance so right off the bat people that had been struggling for years had a means to pay for it,” said Carson.
She said the withdrawl from opioid drugs is brutal.
Somerset treats patients with self-help and support, making a new start.
“The idea is that you’re helping this whole person start a new life that’s based in recovery and they’re going to need new skills, new education about their addiction but also about other issues in their lives,” said Carson.