Heroin Use in Northwest Said Up

Friday, July 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) — Lisa Grenier extended her arms, palms up, to reveal deep track marks, the signature of heroin use.

``This is what it does to you,'' she said, sobbing. ``It's the worst thing that you can ever, ever do. Don't do it. Don't even try it, not even once.''

Now 42, Grenier is a 20-year addict. She is also one of approximately 15,000 to 20,000 heroin users in Seattle and surrounding King County, where a new federal report says overdose deaths have increased 134 percent in 10 years.

A similar rise was seen in Portland and surrounding Multnomah County, Ore., where nearly as many men ages 25-54 now die from heroin than cancer or heart disease, according to the study published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Other studies have shown heroin overdoses increasing in most U.S. cities, but not so dramatically.

``It's a very serious problem, and one that we're addressing very aggressively,'' said Dr. Alonzo Plough, director of the Seattle-King County Health Department.

King County recently expanded its methadone treatment program, which allows addicts to function normally without agonizing heroin withdrawal.

Yet the program still has a waiting list of 600 names, Plough said. Grenier said she has been waiting for more than a year for treatment.

``It shouldn't take that long to get somebody on. It shouldn't, because then people go out and start stealing and whatever else they need to do'' to pay for a fix, she said at the downtown Street Outreach Services, a drop-in center for injection drug users.

``We've got people who come in every single day asking where they are on the list. These are people who are desperate,'' said Kris Nyrop, executive director at the center, where about two dozen men and women sipped coffee and watched television Thursday. At least a dozen more stood outside.

According to experts and recovered addicts, Seattle and Portland have both struggled to supply resources to treat addicts who are most seriously ill.

Both cities are on the Interstate 5 corridor, which runs from Mexico to Canada. That, coupled with their role as international ports, makes the cities convenient for smugglers selling ``black tar'' heroin from Mexico and South America, said Capt. James Ferraris of the Portland police drug and vice division.

``Heroin is much more available now than it ever has been in the past, and the younger crowd is breaking into heroin use in particular,'' he said.

Chris Harvey, a recovered addict and counselor from Portland, said many users aren't as cautious about the more potent heroin.

``If you know a hard-core addict and somebody down the street just bought some dope and overdosed and died, the first thing this guy's gonna say is, 'Where did he get that? I want some of that,''' Harvey said. ``That's the insanity of drugs.''

Heroin doses start at about $20.

Dr. Gary Oxman, director of the Multnomah County health department, said price, availability and a glamorization of heroin in movies and music have contributed to the rapid growth in use.

In Seattle, Nyrop said the city's reputation as a heroin hotspot was established during its ``grunge rock'' heyday of the mid-1990s. It was magnified by the 1994 suicide of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer for the group Nirvana who struggled with heroin addiction. Three months later, Kristen Pfaff, the bassist in the band of Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, was found dead of an overdose.

The number of heroin overdose deaths in Seattle and King County climbed from 47 in 1990 to 110 in 1999. Overdose deaths peaked at 140 in 1998 — topping the 137 who died in auto accidents the same year.

Overdose deaths are expected to top 100 again this year.

In Multnomah County, heroin overdose deaths climbed from 46 in 1993 to 111 in 1999. Three years ago, 67 men ages 25 to 54 died of heroin overdoses, compared with 88 from cancer and 73 from heart disease.

The CDC has not tracked heroin overdoses nationally, but statistics from the Drug Abuse Warning Network indicate use of the drug is increasing nationwide.

During 1994 to 1998, DAWN received reports of 20,140 drug-induced deaths in the United States where heroin or related opiates were detected. During that span, heroin overdose deaths increased 25.7 percent.

Nyrop said those who overdose often had stopped temporarily because they were in jail or could not get the drug. They inject the same high dose after losing tolerance to the drug, with fatal results.

Grenier said she had witnessed two recent overdoses.

``One was this guy I know. He made it. He was one of the lucky ones,'' she said. ``And I seen one down at the (Pike Place) public market. She didn't make it.''


On the Net:

Drug Abuse Warning Network: http://www.health.org/pubs/dawn

CDC: http://www.cdc.gov