by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Late last month, Seattle Fire guided a 911 caller through CPR being administered to the victim of a reported drug overdose at a Summit Avenue apartment in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. When police and fire personnel arrived at the scene, they found one man dead and a 31-year-old woman suffering from a possible heroin overdose. The woman was transported to Harborview Hospital, where her condition was stabilized.
Neither SPD officials nor SFD officials were surprised by the call. They've seen this before. And they will no doubt see it again. Heroin has made its way back into the veins of its victims at a rising rate - and there's already been a steady increase in overdose cases right here in Seattle.
In August, a 911 caller reported that one of a group of three men seen using needles to inject drugs in an alley in the 500 block of East Republican Street was overdosing. 'It's been a busy summer of similar anecdotes around Capitol Hill,' reported CHS Blog (www.capitolhillseattle.com). 'Seattle Fire Department medics responded to a heroin overdose call earlier in July when two men in their early 20s had both overdosed while sitting in a van at 11th and Pine. A week before just a few blocks away medics responded to two other heroin overdoses within 24 hours of each other.'
The exact number of heroin overdoses is unknown, but an SFD spokesperson said medic units have seen a rise in heroin-related calls in the Capitol Hill area.
Often, when one thinks of heroin, a drug that is so vile and responsible for the deaths and destruction of so many lives, scenes from seedy Hollywood movies or indie cult classics come to mind. The guy shooting up in the alley or park bathroom would seem a perfectly stereotypical user. But officials say that this year, they are seeing something different. Medics have been called to ODs in apartment buildings and single-family residences on the Hill more often than not.
Sadly, officials say, overdoses in the neighborhood follow a trend of increased ODs among people under 30 in Seattle and around the rest of the state.
ONE HORRIFYING CASE
A father and his four-year-old son in Redmond were found overdosed on heroin in their home last month.
Eric Lehtinen, 37, was upset that his wife had finalized their divorce after a six-year marriage, so he allegedly attempted to murder their son by injecting the boy with the drug.
On September 24, Lehtinen's ex-wife discovered him and his son unconscious in their home, a heroin-filled syringe still on the child's chest. Firefighters arrived on the scene and were unable to get Lehtinen and his son to respond. Both were rushed to a hospital and doctors found heroin, ketamine, morphine, and codeine in the child's blood.
Lehtinen's wife had filed for divorce because of his unwillingness to remain off of drugs. However, she allowed her son to stay with Lehtinen because she was going to a job interview.
Lehtinen was taken to jail after he was released from the hospital. His bond was set at $3 million and he was charged with attempted murder. If convicted, Lehtinen could face 15 years in prison.
The potential damage injecting a four-year-old can do is unknown because no one, not even the police or medical professionals, had ever heard of it happening before.
'Sometimes after an overdose, if someone has had a long period without oxygen to the brain, their heart will survive but the brain can be damaged so we'll have to see how he does. We hope that he will recover but at this point it's not absolutely sure if he will recover completely or not,' Washington Poison Center Associate Medical Director Dr. Thomas Martin told Seattle's Q13 News.
Martin has studied and treated heroin addicts for more than three decades and says he knows better than most the devastation it can cause.
'It causes terrible health consequences because of sharing needles and because of contaminates they're injecting into their body. There's a whole variety of complications that can occur from injecting heroin - medical complications as well as the social problems and social disasters it causes for the individual and for their family,' Martin said.
Martin claims that tighter restrictions on prescription opiates has led to the recent surge in heroin abuse, especially among young people.
'I think a lot of young people may have experimented with pharmaceutical opiates like Oxycodone, Oxycontin or Vicodin, Hydrocodone, things like that, codeine, that were much more widely available up until recent times - I'd say within the last two or three years,' Martin said.
In fact, the number of people dying from heroin overdose doubled in the past three years and no one is immune. DEA Special Agent In Charge Matthew Barnes told media, 'This is middle-class, soccer moms, high school [students] and athletes, that are falling into that trap.'
EPIDEMIC AT STANWOOD
Officials at Stanwood High School outside Seattle are battling heroin addiction. ABC News reports nearly 50 students at the school are hooked.
Abigail Achison, 17, dropped out of Stanwood and gave into the drug. 'After the first time, I was completely hooked,' Achison told KOMO News. 'Some people start out slowly with other drugs. I just did heroin once and I couldn't stop.'
School officials and community members organized a town hall meeting to raise awareness and rally around their teens.
'It's all of our problem,' Lloy Schaaf, assistant superintendent of the Stanwood-Camano School District, said. 'We all need to own it and we all need to do something about it.'
The problem of heroin addiction in Seattle, reports ABC News, is growing. A middle-school janitor was found earlier this year with 60 bags of heroin. Two other dealers were arrested weeks later near a suburban soccer field in Seattle.
CHEAPER AND STRONGER
One of the driving factors of an increased use of the drug is that it's cheap. As little as $5 can keep a user high all day, and it's more pure and more potent than ever before. Drug Enforcement Agency officials are reporting that today's heroin is 60% stronger than 1970s heroin.
The potency, and ease with which users are buying the drug, is especially dangerous 'if they take it in combination with other sedative hypnotics like alcohol or sleeping pills or tranquilizers or muscle relaxers - all those things work together with heroin to make it more likely you will stop breathing,' Martin said.
'If you've never used heroin, don't start,' he said, and because some people get hooked on heroin after taking legitimately prescribed painkillers, he added, 'People should use only the amount necessary [of legal painkillers] to control pain and get off of it as soon as possible, to minimize the risk of becoming addicted.'
And the problem continues to persist on Capitol Hill. Another report of a heroin overdose on Capitol Hill brought Seattle Fire and police to Miller Community Center on 19th Avenue October 2. Medics responded to a 9 p.m. report of a female victim suffering from an apparent overdose inside the facility. The victim refused medical attention but police were called in to remove her for treatment after it was determined her condition was life-threatening, reports CHS Blog.
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