King County sees spike in heroin-related deaths

SEATTLE -- There has been an alarming spike in heroin deaths this year in King County, and experts are looking for ways to stem the tide.

The county says the number of people being treated for heroin addiction in King County continues to skyrocket. Drug-related deaths for all drugs but heroin are dropping, but deaths due to heroin are up 58 percent in the county.

Whether it's drug addicts coming through the hospital doors or into the criminal justice system, society pays a heavy price for that drug use. Social service advocates say that price would be much less if we spent more money on treatment and prevention.

Drug abuse expert Caleb Banta-Green compiled the new heroin statistics and says methadone programs and other anti-addiction medicines work.

"What we know is that it reduces deaths and it reduces our costs dramatically. They're really good medications," he said.

Now King County is about to unveil a proposed plan called "Best Starts" to keep kids from drugs and other societal ills. The comprehensive plan was designed to avoid costly problems later in life.

"For every $1 invested in prevention, we have a $7 return on investment," said King County Human Services Director Adrienne Quinn.

Best Starts would cost about $60 million a year -- about a dollar a week for the average King County homeowner. In a few years, it would reduce the cost of jails, crime and courts, according to the county.

King County Executive Dow Constantine will put the proposed property tax levy before the County Council in about a month. The council will then decide whether to put it before voters.
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