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Heroin: Use impacts more than just the user

Heroin, the local scourge, leaves families reeling with pain

SNOHOMISH — People in the room shifted uncomfortably as the mothers of heroin addicts poured out tears and stories at a recent public forum.
“How can it be stopped? Why is heroin here?” they pleaded to the drug experts on the panel.
Heroin, a prevalent force to be reckoned with in the region, has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind lately due to extensive crime and media coverage. It has been the fuel behind the fire of criminal activity countywide and the source of many broken families. The community seeks to stop it but law enforcement said that will take time and more public education.
For some, time is running out.
Randi Sue Andrews, from Monroe, is a single working grandmother. She takes care of her grandson, Isaiah, while her daughter “is lost in (the world of) heroin.”

Randi Sue Andrews holds a picture of her grandson Isaiah, who she now takes care of as her daughter has run off to become a heroin user. Andrews is among the thousands of families who face problems with children getting involved with the opiate.

Andrews did not want to name her daughter, but she wanted to share her story with the Tribune as a cautionary tale and perhaps a way to reach others who may be going through the same thing.
“She was a wonderful mother,” Andrews said of her daughter. “Then, she hooked up with a guy who was…no good. He got her into heroin. And it just went downhill from there.”
Andrews is what law enforcement calls a “secondary victim” to heroin. She has been affected by the drug and lifestyle due to her closeness to her daughter and in taking care of her daughter’s son for her.
Andrews has had Isaiah since 2012. She has not seen or heard from her daughter in some time, but she said she has had some things stolen from her property by either her daughter or her daughter’s associates and has had issues keeping herself safe.
“In November 2012, she was approved for state-funded treatment program, and said she was going to go,” Andrews said. “She knew she had a problem, but then she left and has been gone ever since. She’s been running and funning since then.”
Andrews said she heard her daughter had been to jail several times for heroin-related issues as well as been found squatting in abandoned houses, using.
She also shared that before she lost and then later refused contact with her daughter, she knew her daughter was committing crimes to make money to get heroin. It became too much to bear.
“(Committing property crimes), she calls it ‘scrapping’,” Andrews said. “Maybe in her addicted mind, that justifies them breaking into places and selling (the things they steal). I don’t take her phone calls from jail. I can’t. I’ve been through treatment myself. I’ve got more background and education on what’s going on right now. For me to get sober and watch my daughter go off the deep end was just so devastating. You go through parts when you blame yourself. But at one point, my daughter told me ‘I didn’t do this because of you.’ This addiction just changes their personality. I believe that she is so ashamed of what she’s done, that she gets high to forget it. And that getting high drives the need to do it more. So I guess that’s where we’re at.
“I’m a 56-year-old woman that should be just a grandma, and I’m a mother again. I worry about Isaiah when he gets into his teenage years. He thinks his mom doesn’t love him. It’s tough.”
Andrews said she is at a point where she has peace about her situation, but still carries the hope that maybe one day her daughter will come back to her sober. 
Time is running out, she said, and may run out soon for her daughter. Andrews thinks getting addicts access to treatment sooner could be a viable solution so that this doesn’t keep happening. “I’m just blown away by all the break-ins in Monroe,” Andrews said. “The people behind it, they just need help. They all have the same story. But my message is: Addiction changes the person that you are. If there is just a way that these people could get the help when they need or want it sooner, and giving them the support system afterwards – that would help (the problem). Short stints in jail are not enough. (They need) a long period to get  the drugs out of their system. It’s more like manpower and being diligent, and following up and you would think eventually that there’s got to be enough resources to help them.”

Where users get help
Currently, there is one such facility that has been fighting the hard battle of getting people started on getting clean.
The Snohomish County Triage Center, which opened in 2011 and is operated by Compass Health, is located in Everett and is being called a successful facility by the state. It is volunteer-operated.
Dr. Chris Starets-Foote is the director of the triage, and she said she sees about 94-100 individuals each month. For now, it is a referral-only detox triage center, but they are trying to work something out to make it more open. The triage center can handle mental health patients, but Starets-Foote said they see mostly heroin and meth cases.
“A lot of the time, police will drop off people and a lot of time, the people are under the influence,” Starets-Foote said. “It’s social detox, we treat ‘not really severe’ symptoms. We observe them in the recliners for the first 23 hours and can address things like pain, anxiety, or the effects of coming down. We can also address basic needs like food and a shower.”
The 16-bed unit also has six “recliners” that are also used for 23-hour observation. In April of this year, they also added a 24-hour nursing shift so that there is always medical personnel on hand. The facility has never had a drug or heroin-related death occur.
They do see many repeat individuals. “We’ll see a lot of folks that are repeats that come through the doors but there’s a lot of success stories, too. We don’t see those folks again,” Starets-Foote said. Those who are not repeats, but successes, go from the triage center to longer term detox facilities such as the ones offered by Evergreen, Navos or Sunrise, according to Starets-Foote.
Triage offers patients a referral service to such places and tries to link them according to their care plan.
“Each individual gets a care plan from the time they are admitted,” Starets-Foote said.
Since it is currently a referral-only facility, accepting individuals 18 or older, Starets-Foote said they get referrals from not only law enforcement but also physicians, clergy and other care providers.
“At this point, we don’t have open access, there has to be some kind of referral,” she said. “We’re working toward open access, but that will take more staffing and a bigger facility. Since we added 24 hour nursing, we can take people that are more medically compromised as long as they’re in compliance with house rules. The staff is really trained on verbal de-escalation, trained on signs and symptoms. The staff does an amazing job, it’s very rare that we have to have police intervention. I’m real excited about the programs we have that we can offer to the community.”
According to law enforcement, when a drug-addicted individual tells them they are ready for treatment and detoxification, consenting to referral, that is when law enforcement can take them to triage. It may not always be that simple, especially when triage’s 16 beds are full. When these “capacity issues” occur, the center has to close its doors to new patients.
Other facilities around the county are working to offer more access, however, that also will take time.
Time seems to be of the essence with heroin users.
For some, it’s “treat me now” or they twirl in heroin’s escape longer.
The withdrawals are not pleasant. It takes a few hours for heroin to get out of a person’s system, but those who become physically addicted to the drug experience withdrawals including drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week; however, people who are heavily dependent on heroin and in poor health could be killed by the sudden withdrawal.
There are local support groups, such as Helping Hands, a Narcotics Anonymous group in Monroe that meets at First Baptist Church, 17922 149th St. SE.
Support groups are in place to help not only addicts or former addicts, but also the secondary victims harmed by heroin.
Sharing stories and information at the public forum may have just been the beginning. Instead of ignoring the issue and just letting law enforcement “deal with the issue,” citizens and secondary victims can offer support and deal with the issue at home and among themselves.
“It’s something that cannot just be accepted,” Andrews said of heroin use. “We need to do something, let’s pull the resources. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s just mind-boggling. (My daughter) was a beautiful, beautiful girl. And sadly, that’s how she’ll be able to survive out there. In the meantime, she’s got a little boy who has lost his mommy. We all need to find out who we are, so we can reach out and get the support to each other. It’s got to be talked about.”

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The Tribune is tracking the issue of heroin in Snohomish County and encourages comments and ideas to 360-568-4121 or by email at

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