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A summit on Washington's opioid epidemic will continue in Seattle on Friday, following a full day of panels Thursday at the University of Washington.
More than 400 people registered for the "Summit on Reducing the Supply of Illegal Opioids in Washington," hosted by Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The two-day summit is bringing together the region's law enforcement, medical professionals, prosecutors and public health experts to discuss new ways to curb the opiate crisis that has gripped Washington state and the rest of the country.
"We have a huge, huge problem in Washington state," Ferguson said. "We have two people each day die of an overdose of opioids. Nationwide, more people have died of these overdoses in the last three years than died during the Vietnam war altogether, and of the states west of the Mississippi, Washington is the only one where we’re seeing a rise in these overdoses."
On Thursday, 21 panelists on the front lines of the opiate crisis shared the stage at Kane Hall throughout the day for ten sessions about topics like dealing with addiction, investigating overdose cases, public health and medical perspectives and drug trends in the Northwest. Speakers included Ferguson, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste, and State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. Experts from other states, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Drug Enforcement Administration also led sessions.
The panels highlighted effective law enforcement and public health strategies happening in the Puget Sound region and in other states, like New Jersey, where officials implemented a drug monitoring initiative to track data that influences how law enforcement should respond to the opioid crisis.
Snohomish County's fight against opioid addiction was in the spotlight in a Thursday morning session with the county's sheriff, the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force commander and Everett's public health and safety officer.
Officials talked about the City of Everett's lawsuit against OxyCotin maker Purdue Pharma for allowing the opioid to flood the black market. They shared details about Everett's embedded social workers program, which pairs social workers with Everett police officers to help individuals on the street navigate treatment and housing. They also said there's a shortage of drug treatment options in the county, which had one of the highest overdose death rates in the state between 2011 and 2015.
"My goal as a sheriff is to stop using our jail as our mental health and our detox facility," said Sheriff Ty Trenary, adding that he hopes to open a pre-jail diversion program in 2018 to help people detox and receive treatment as soon as they enter the system.
Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary
In an afternoon session, Sierra Wissler, an assistant U.S. attorney in Missouri, explained to law enforcement in the crowd how to properly investigate an overdose death. She shared details about proper evidence collection and witness interview techniques.
Eighteen speakers are scheduled to participate in breakout sessions on Friday. The topics include naxalone policy and practice and the changing role of a prosecutor's office in responding to the opioid epidemic.
The two-day opioid summit stems from an executive order signed by Governor Jay Inslee in October, which requested the Attorney General's Office partner with the Washington State Patrol and Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys to develop and recommend strategies to reduce the supply of opioids in the state.
"The ultimate goal is to make recommendations to the state legislature to issue a report to give some guidance on what might be good next steps to address this situation," Ferguson said.
Nationwide, opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, the CDC recorded 1,094 drug overdose deaths in Washington -- up more than 10 percent from 2014. Washington is the only western state to see a statistically significant increase in drug overdose death rates between those years.
In a Wednesday interview, Ferguson also touched on other topics, including President Donald Trump's travel ban, the health of Hanford workers, gun violence and reform and his political future.
President Trump's travel ban
Health of Hanford workers
Gun violence and reform
His possible future in politics