Olympia's Heroin Use On the Rise

By McCarton Ackerman 11/27/13

But funds to treat low-income users is on the way down.

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The budget for treatment dropped by nearly $1 million
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Heroin abuse is on the rise in the Washington city of Olympia, but state and federal funding has been slashed by nearly 25 percent, making it difficult for treatment centers to provide services to those who need help.

Chris Johnson, a case manager for the Northwest Resources chemical dependency treatment center, said the problem of heroin use in the Olympia area has been growing since 2010. However, funding for the program which covers Thurston and Mason counties dropped from $4.33 million annually in 2009 to its current funding of $3.42 million. Johnson described the situation as “fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun” and said additional resources were badly needed. “There is a supply of substances of abuse that meets or exceeds its demand,” he said. “But the demand for treatment exceeds the ability to provide it.” Program manager Joe Avalos said the funding cuts have “directly impacted our publicly funded infrastructure, leading to the closure of major treatment providers in our two-county area.”

Olympia has one facility which provides heroin users with medically assisted methadone called the South Sound Clinic, which currently serves 375 patients. Executive director Molly Carney said they have permission to serve 400 patients, but aren’t able to because they lack adequate staff. Johnson has even taken to walking the streets of Olympia, passing out his business card to those he feels may need help. “I’ll say it over and over again, ‘When you’re ready, call me,’ he said. “Eventually, addicts come around, because it doesn’t get better. It always gets worse."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.