(4/30/11 photo by Katie Meyer from the Admiral Way Viewpoint drug-takeback dropoff)
The drug-takeback events on April 30th netted 256 pounds of prescription drugs in West Seattle alone, according to the local DEA office. But if you doubt that matters – check out the toplines from last night’s presentation to the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council. While drug-abuse expert Steve Freng talked about all categories of drug abuse, over and over again, he reiterated that it’s legal drugs, not illegal drugs, causing the most problems these days.
Freng is with the team focused on the Northwest HIDTA – high-intensity drug-trafficking area. He also spoke to the WSCPC at the Southwest Precinct two and a half years ago (here’s our report from that meeting), at which time he warned that prescription-drug abuse was on the upswing. His information is not West Seattle-specific, but it’s regional and likely a good indicator of what’s happening here:
Not that legal drugs are the only drugs abused in this area, according to Freng – the Northwest has “an incredible appetite for drugs,” and is also a hotbed of growing and manufacturing. For marijuana, for example, he said that its use is “spiking,” with plenty of supply – Mexico-linked drug-trafficking organizations are growing “enormous amounts” outdoors in Eastern Washington, while Canada/Asia-linked organizations are growing indoors in Western Washington. But he said meth use has “stabilized,” cocaine use has “dropped precipitously.”
But prescription drugs represent an “entirely new pandemic sweeping through the culture” – with narcotic pain relievers leading the way in terms of abuse, followed by sedatives, stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs.
The opiate (natural or synthetic) pain relievers are “killing people six times faster than heroin is,” Freng noted, adding that our state has the highest overdose-death rate in the nation. He noted in his presentation that 119 million prescriptions were written in the U.S. for Vicodin alone in 2007 – 1 for every 3 people – and suggested the increase in prescription-drug abuse can be directly tied to a philosophical change in the health-care industry to more aggressively treat pain. (He had critical words for stimulant prescriptions, too, particularly those given to children for suspected attention-deficit disorders: “We’ve been overmedicating our children for a long time.” Those stimulants, he said, are most commonly abused on college campuses, where a student might share her/his prescription with dorm-mates who are all trying to stay awake and alert to deal with their studies.)
He also noted that methadone – which is used for pain relief as well as for heroin-addiction treatment – is much-abused, and particularly dangerous because of its longer half-life.
Even marijuana, according to Freng, is sending people to the hospital more than it used to. And though cocaine use is down, it’s making people sick in more ways than one; he says manufacturers in Latin America are cutting it with Levamisole, a “deworming agent” that he said can cause a blood-borne disease affecting users’ immune systems.
An attendee asked Freng his thoughts about the current proliferation of medical-marijuana businesses. He declined to address them specifically, but in terms of the wider issue of potential marijuana legalization, he cautioned: “(Marijuana outlawing) isn’t prohibition the way alcohol prohibition worked … this prohibition has a black market that has been thriving for 50 years. They’re not going to go anywhere if we legalize it; the Mexican (traffickers) are not going to say ‘oh, sorry, Washington, we’ll go back to California’ … it will end up so that if you can go down to the liquor store or pharmacy and buy an ounce for 300 bucks, you can probably go down the street to (a dealer’s) house and he will sell it to you for 200 bucks. It’s a no-win situation so far as I’m concerned.”
Other illegal drugs: Meth mostly comes from Mexico, and the most prevalent variety is “ice”; heroin also comes mostly from Mexico, with “black tar” most commonly sold/used; cocaine still originates in South America, two-thirds of it coming from Colombia, most of the rest from Bolivia or Peru.
Freng concluded with information about new trends of “legal” highs that the government is trying to deal with now – a marijuana-mimicking plant substance sold as “spice,” and the stimulants sold as “bath salts.” Though both are now the subject of emergency regulations in our state, Freng pointed out they can still be obtained online. The “bath salts” are most dangerous, he indicated, because their effects are “edgy, raspy,” much more so than other stimulants such as cocaine.
Finally, he said, what does in most drug victims is combining substances that aren’t meant to be combined – one substance’s effects might be magnified by the other. That led to a discussion of how Michael Jackson died – not your usual topic at a neighborhood crime-prevention meeting, but you never know which way the discussion will go.
The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meets on the third Tuesday of the month, 7 pm, Southwest Precinct; next meeting will be June 21st.