By Nate Nehring
Every corner of Snohomish County has been impacted by the rise of the heroin and opioid epidemic. Addiction, homelessness and associated property crimes have negatively impacted all of our communities. This is not unique to this county as our state and nation are facing similar challenges. Our county is unique in our approach to addressing this epidemic, and we are setting an example for other jurisdictions statewide. One important step we recently took as a County Council was to ban heroin injection sites. These dangerous sites have been proposed in King County and Seattle and, because of that, we decided to preemptively ban them.
Our approach must focus on prevention, treatment and enforcement rather than enabling drug abuse. Over the past couple of years, Snohomish County Human Services, in partnership with the sheriff’s office and cities’ police departments, has launched the Law Enforcement-Embedded Social Worker program. That program partners social workers with law enforcement to reach out to homeless and addicted individuals where they are: encampments, business storefronts and public rights-of-way. We know that it can be difficult for individuals with addiction to navigate the bureaucracy of treatment services so this program gives them the assistance they need to choose a better life for themselves. We recently launched a North County team that will partner sheriff’s deputies, Arlington and Marysville police, and two social workers to address the issue in those cities and the surrounding unincorporated areas. Another recent development in this effort is the opening of the Jail Diversion Center initiated by Sheriff Ty Trenary. This center is located at the County Correctional Campus and will help bring low-level offenders who struggle with drug addiction to treatment and housing options.
Upon entry into the jail, an evaluation will be done to determine if an individual is suited for the program. If they are, they will be temporarily housed in the diversion center while social workers find them treatment options and stable housing.
Since this is an alternative to jail, participants must follow through with treatment or face traditional incarceration. I am excited to see this program and the embedded social worker team work together to bring more of our neighbors out of addiction and homelessness and return to productive members of society. Also, I sponsored, and the County Council passed, the chronic nuisance property law that gives law enforcement more tools for identifying and addressing such properties. It encourages voluntary abatement but sets out a process for mandatory abatement to clean up nuisance properties that have negatively affected our neighborhoods.
There is no silver bullet for solving the heroin and opioid epidemic, and it will not be fixed overnight. But as we continue to partner with local governments, treatment providers and community groups we will get closer to helping our neighbors and making our communities safer.
Snohomish County Councilman Nate Nehring represents District 1, which includes Arlington and Marysville. Nate.Nehring@snoco.org.