As of Tuesday, January 23, 2018
A pilot program that brings together opioid treatment centers, housing, and law enforcement efforts could bring reform to Washington’s policy on non-violent drug offenders.
A bill introduced in the house by Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, HB 2287 and its companion version, Senate Bill 6060, would develop a pilot project in partnership with Snohomish County Human Services and local law enforcement.
The project essentially creates a diversion center at an existing facility where people can stay for about 16 days to receive temporary treatment for addiction and mental health related issues after release from jail or on referral from the Sheriff’s Department or social workers.
The project aims to reduce the number of non-violent offenders going through county jails, provide behavioral health treatment to drug offenders, and address the housing needs of people facing addiction.
“The problem is so severe that we have to figure out a way to turn the system on its head,” Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary told state lawmakers during a hearing on Monday Jan. 8.
The Snohomish County sheriff’s office and local law enforcement have been partnering with social workers to meet with people facing homelessness in efforts to find a solution. Trenary said part of the problem is a two- to three-week waiting period to get someone connected to services.
Often times the person officers and social workers are trying to help will be forced to move. Those individuals seeking treatment are often hard to find after they relocate.
The pilot project would develop an approximately 40-bed facility where people can receive immediate treatment and where they can be referred to other agencies for a more permanent solution for addiction treatment or homelessness.
Law enforcement and social workers can refer individuals to and receive immediate service while they await a more permanent solution.
Cammy Hart-Anderson is the division manager for chemical dependency, mental health, and veterans services in Snohomish County. She said stabilization programs in the past have seen success with medication-assisted treatment.
Drugs like suboxone and vivitrol mitigate heroin and opioid withdrawal symptoms. The pilot project proposes partnership with Pioneer Human Services in Snohomish county to make those treatments available.
Hayes, the House bill’s prime sponsor, said the project should be tried in this specific region because Snohomish County is the only one with a facility already available. He added that law enforcement and social workers have already established relationships with the community as well.
Hayes said the bill is not tied to a funding amount, as legislators are still discussing the details. Still, Governor Jay Inslee put $500,000 aside in his proposed budget for the pilot project, according to Hayes.
However, the bill proposes one-time funding. After one year, if the project proves effective, Snohomish County will pay for its continued operations for another two years.
“We need to attack addiction and mental health issues in a different way than we have in the past,” said Hayes, who is a Snohomish County Sheriff’s sergeant. “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”
The proposed legislation is meant to serve as a test model to evaluate the best ways to address the needs of social services, law enforcement, and non-violent drug offenders. The project could serve as a model for other cities if it is proven effective.
Trenary told lawmakers that about 90 percent of inmates are on heroin or opioid withdrawal care. The new project in Snohomish county is designed to address this overcapacity issue.