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Tri-Cities is getting $2 million to fight opioid addiction. Here’s why it’s unusual

Why it’s so hard to break an opioid addiction

More than half a million people died between 2000 and 2015 from opioid use. In 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the national opioid crisis a public health emergency. We examine what happens to the human body on opioids.
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More than half a million people died between 2000 and 2015 from opioid use. In 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the national opioid crisis a public health emergency. We examine what happens to the human body on opioids.

The Tri-Cities is getting a nearly $2 million infusion to fight the opioid crisis locally.

The money will be used to set up “initiation sites” at Kadlec Regional Medical Center’s emergency room and the Benton and Franklin county jails, where addicts can start treatment.

The medication-assisted treatment helps them withdraw safely and regain stability. Then, they will be connected to case management and other support services.

Last year, 20 deaths were opioid-related in the Tri-City area, the Benton-Franklin Health District reported. In Benton County, the cost to taxpayers of treating overdoses was $1 million, the agency said.

“We are very, very fortunate, here in the Tri-Cities, to be able to start working together as a community to fight opioid addiction,” said Dr. Jeffrey Allgaier, president and CEO of Ideal Option.

“This is not something you see commonly happen anywhere in the United States — to have a partnership where you have the medical community, where you have law enforcement, where you have everybody working together as a unit to fight this,” he said.

Ideal Option, a nationwide addiction medicine practice that’s based in the Tri-Cities, obtained the grant with Kadlec in Richland and the Benton and Franklin county sheriff’s offices.

Allgaier announced the grant Monday, alongside the sheriffs and Lane Savitch, Kadlec’s chief executive.

“This is a very serious problem not only here in the Tri-Cities, but nationally,” Savitch said.

“At Kadlec Regional Medical Center, one of the greatest frustrations that has existed within the emergency department is the revolving door that we’ve had with opioid use disorder patients,” Savitch said.

The community has lacked resources to help them withdraw and stay clean, he said.

So, “providers in the emergency department treat these patients over and over again, until sometimes they’re not able to be helped anymore at all, which is a horrible loss for this community,” he said.

US NEWS MED-OPIOIDS LA.JPG
The Tri-Cities is getting nearly $2 million to fight the opioid crisis locally. Liz O. Baylen TNS file, 2013

Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher also spoke about the magnitude of the problem.

“In my particular jail — I run a 750-person jail — about three to four out of every 10 individuals who come through are under the influence of some kind of opiate or some kind of narcotic,” he said.

“We’re excited to be able to not just incarcerate, but to provide a treatment platform,” he said. “We will stabilize them within the jail and then when they’re done with their custody status, we’re able to hand them off to the community so that they can take advantage of the community resources out here.”

He added that, “we know that’s going to drastically reduce the recidivism rate of these individuals.”

Sgt. Aaron Clem of the Kennewick Police Department discusses illegal drug trends and overdose deaths in the Tri-Cities.

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond said he believes the partnership will work and can make a difference.

Representatives of Sen. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., also spoke.

Opioids include prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, plus heroin and synthetics such as fentanyl.

In Washington, more than 47,000 people are addicted, Allgaier said.

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The grant money coming to the Tri-Cities is from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and was awarded through the Washington Health Care Authority.

It will cover 20 months of work, kicking off in February.

Allgaier said the plan is to hire eight to 10 people, including registered nurses and case managers.

Ideal Option is based here, but it has 60 locations in 10 states.

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Sara Schilling writes about what makes the Tri-Cities home, including cool people doing cool things. She also pays special attention to children’s education, schools, health care and the arts. She grew up in Kennewick and attended Seattle Pacific University.
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