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Washington's heroin crisis: Overdoses, deaths up for 5th year

For the fifth year in a row, the number of people who overdosed and died from heroin went up in Washington.
Heroin overdoses and deaths are up in Washington state for a fifth year in a row.

For the fifth year in a row, the number of people who overdosed and died from heroin went up in Washington.

More than 200 people died from heroin overdoses and more than 15,000 people checked into rehab and treatment programs, according to data from the Department of Health and the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Institute.

It's a new record.

Many doctors admit they accidentally got some of these addicts hooked on heroin.

'I was put on pills'

It started in the medicine cabinet in the early 2000s.

Amber Basham, 35, has been shooting up heroin for the last four years. She's never been to rehab.

"It's the wrong path to go down. You lose everything," said Basham. "It's hard to get out of it. It's a struggle."

Basham lives in a homeless camp on the outskirts of Everett.

Police say she's a known prostitute and thief. It didn't used to be that way.

At one time, she lived in a regular home with a steady, middle-class job.

Basham's heroin addiction began with a perfectly legal and completely routine foot surgery.

"I was put on pills. The pills turned into heroin because doctors over-prescribed the pills. That's the main key for everyone's problems. It's pills," said Basham.

She's right.

These pills are a form of opiates, heroin's chemical cousin. They're called Oxycontin, Oxycodone and so on. Many doctors now admit they prescribed too many prescription pain pills in the early 2000s.

"As the prescriptions went up, so did the death rate from overdoses," said Dr. Steve Anderson, an emergency room physician at the Auburn Regional Medical Center. "Doctors woke up around 2008 and said, whoa, we might be part of the problem here."

In 2008, at its peak, overdoses from prescription pain medicine killed more than 500 people in Washington.

"It slapped me in the face," said Dr. Anderson, who says he and other doctors cut back on prescribing these legal pain medicines.

But that left addicts like Amber Basham looking for a substitute: heroin.

"I think I started by snorting it," she said. "I was like, 'Oh. This is just like a pill.' Then it progressed from there. I went from smoking it to shooting it. That's pretty much everybody's story."

WATCH: Washington's heroin crisis - Part 1

WATCH: Washington's heroin crisis - Part 2

WATCH: Washington's heroin crisis - How we found the addicts

Rehab boom

You can find the stories of heroin addicts by visiting the rehab and treatment programs throughout Western Washington.

Ten years ago, there were 5,000 addicts getting help.

Today, there are 15,000 addicts.

The state of Washington is paying dearly for all this, more than $45 million for treatment.

"I see the students. I see the person who goes to work in the factory. All those people are getting addicted," said Dr. Anderson.

Robyn's story

One of the addicts in treatment is Robyn Bosch, 24.

Robyn's father, Robert, is a paramedic and her mother, Christina, is a fire station manager.

Robyn tried heroin for the first time she was 21. Soon after, she was hooked.

"She was starting to run away and disappear more often. She'd be gone for days," said Christina.

"She would come home, ask for money. We would say no. She would explode."

Robyn ended up running away from home and living on the streets of Portland with her boyfriend.

"We had no idea where she was," said Christina.

"It felt like you have someone drowning," said her dad Robert.

Robyn was out of touch for weeks. Her parents wouldn't hear anything until a random message one day from a stranger.

"I got a private Facebook message from some guy. I had no idea who he was," said Christina. "I finally had to ask how he knew my daughter. And he said either she answered a Craigslist ad for money for sex. He did what Johns do."

"For some reason, he felt that he needed to help this girl who would probably kill herself if this went on much longer."

That John is named Ron Morse. Two years after hiring Robyn as a prostitute, he still lives on the outskirts of Portland.

"Robyn seemed to have a lot of potential," said Morse. "After meeting her, my heart kind of went out for her."

Morse contacted Robyn's parents and offered to help them find her.

After they found her living in a homeless camp and begging for money, Christina and Robert tried approaching Robyn.

It didn't go over so well.

Robyn punched her mom in the face. It landed her in the Multnomah County Jail for seven months.

After another year on the streets of Portland, Robyn eventually returned to Gig Harbor to get help.

"It finally got to the point where I couldn't take who I was on drugs anymore," she said. "I was mean, hurtful."

She is now living in a sober house in Bremerton and working at a fast-food restaurant, attending heroin rehab three days a week.

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