UW News

January 14, 2003

Heroin and cocaine deaths rebound in Seattle-King County in 2002, while methamphetamine use appears to plateau

Heroin and cocaine-related deaths in the Seattle-King County area increased in 2002, following a dip in numbers in the period between July 2001 and December 2001, according to the semi-annual report titled Recent Drug Abuse Trends in the Seattle-King County Area. Methamphetamine use, meanwhile, appears to have leveled off after years of increases. Club drugs, marijuana and prescription opiates are all being abused in higher numbers over the past several years.

The report is released twice a year by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington and funded by the state Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse.

“The report is the work of many people from disciplines including law enforcement, public health, state government and drug abuse intervention and treatment. Together they make up the King County Community Epidemiology Workgroup,” said Caleb Banta-Green, epidemiologist at the institute, and lead author of the report. “The impacts of drug use are measured in many different ways, including calls to the 24-Hour Alcohol and Drug Helpline and deaths documented by the King County Medical Examiner?s Office. The vigilant people in the work group detect emerging trends in drug use.”

In King County, from January to July of 2002, there were 4,120 publicly funded alcohol and drug treatment admissions and 2,724 calls to the help line about illegal and prescription drugs. An estimated 11,496 people were seen in emergency departments because of problems related to drug use in 2001 in King and Snohomish Counties combined.

Other key findings from the report include:
* Heroin and cocaine dominate drug-related emergency department reports and mortality statistics.
* Of the 102 drug-related deaths in the first half of 2002, 70 involved cocaine, heroin or both drugs. The emergency department data now available from 2001 shows a slight decline in cocaine and a substantial decline in heroin.
* Methamphetamine use and manufacturing have slowed. Through November of 2002, seizure of 223 methamphetamine laboratories and dumpsites were reported in King County, compared to 271 in 2001. Publicly funded treatment admissions for methamphetamine plateaued in the first half of 2002 in King County at 9 percent. “Preliminary analysis of 2002 data by the Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (NW HIDTA) indicates that the sharp upward trend in statewide clandestine laboratories abated for the first time since 1997,” said Steven Freng, prevention and treatment manager for NW HIDTA and one of the contributors to the report. “However, the availability of methamphetamine appears to remain at or above previous levels due to importation from other states and countries.”
* Public Health- Seattle & King County?s STD clinic data point to a significant increase in risk for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases among men who have sex with men who use either methamphetamine or MDMA/Ecstasy, versus men who have sex with men who do not use these drugs.
* Prescription opiates are seen increasingly in emergency departments and in those dying from drug-related causes. Deaths in which oxycodone, marketed as Oxycontin and Percocet, was identified have increased steadily from 1999 through the first half of 2002. Oxycodone was identified in 13 deaths, all which also involved other drugs, from January to June of 2002. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration data point to a roughly 1,600 percent increase in Oxycontin distributed to hospitals and pharmacies throughout Washington and a 1,300 percent increase nationally from January 1997 through March 2001.

“It is unclear at this point whether the increase in prescription opiate use represents a surge in abuse of these drugs or simply the increase in appropriate prescriptions intended to manage pain, a medical condition that has historically been under-medicated,” Banta-Green said.

The entire report can be viewed on line in the publications section at http://adai.washington.edu.

The King County Community Epidemiology Work Group is part of a national network of researchers and public health officials from 20 major United States metropolitan areas and the state of Texas. It was established in 1976 by the National Institute of Drug Abuse. The Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse within the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services provided funding for the project in Washington in 2002. Drug trends reports are released twice a year by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington.