SMOKEY POINT – During a drug needle cleanup Saturday in a homeless camp, volunteers came across an unusual site.
Mixed in with the dirty syringes, cut-up Coca Cola cans, Mountain Dew bottles, garbage and tell-tale signs of drug use, Arlington Police Chief Jonathan Ventura spotted the top from an over-the-counter Narcan nasal spray.
“Somebody overdosed right here, and they’re ‘Narcan-ing’ themselves,” Ventura said. “I’ve seen this in other places, but I haven’t run into it in a camp before. They’re carrying enough Narcan now to help out each other.”
In the past two years training to administer Narcan, or Naloxone, has moved from beyond first responders to giving the general public the know-how to rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
The needle cleanup was a bipartisan political event that drew candidates and party supporters to a camp in a forested area in the 16600 block east of Smokey Point Boulevard.
Ventura, who led the groups into the camp, gave a quick overview to the 18 participants about how to safely use needle cleanup kits provided by the Snohomish Health District. Thick gloves, tongs, hand sanitizer and Sharps containers were included.
Ventura said he is seeing fewer needles, mentioning that a needle-exchange program may have played a role in that. Addicts can trade old, reused and sometimes shared needles for new ones.
“It’s a sad thing and a sign of the times that this is how you spend a beautiful summer Saturday in Arlington,” Mayor Barb Tolbert said.
Several elected officials and candidates reiterated that similar situations could be in any greenbelt bordering urban and suburban areas around Snohomish County.
Petra Bigea, a Lynnwood Republican running in the 21st Legislative District, said as a mushroom hunter with the Puget Sound Micological Society, she knows wooded areas more than most.
“We go in the woods and pretty much pick chanterelles and morels,” Bigea said. “Now I’m picking up needles.”
Bigea said it is important to her as a mother and candidate to get involved. “I’m out here to clean our woods, our environment, and to keep them and our neighborhoods safe for our children and ourselves.”
Louis Harris stepped up for the work party representing the Snohomish County Young Democrats. He said being disconnected from what is happening on the ground with issues like the opioid epidemic perpetuates the problem.
“My organization is the type of people who like to go head first into the problem and see if we can help or create a solution,” Harris said, adding he supports needle exchange as a strategy to reduce the impact of the opioid crisis on communities.
Arlington police rounded up several containers holding about 200 needles by the end of the sweep.
The work party was organized by County Councilmembers Nate Nehring, a Republican serving the north county, and Stephanie Wright, a Democrat serving a south portion of the county.
“This event serves to show that the opioid epidemic is not a partisan issue,” Nehring said. “As partners, we can make a positive difference in our communities and the lives of our neighbors.”
Wright agreed. “Secondary health effects of the opioid epidemic, like exposure to unsecured needles, have impacted all of our families and neighborhoods,” she said. “Working together is the only way to address this community health crisis.”