Whatcom County will spend a little more than $100,000 a year to add a position to the Homeless Outreach Team to help people who are addicted to opioids and other substances.
The person will soon join the team – run through the nonprofit Opportunity Council – in its street outreach efforts, focusing on people struggling with opioids.
The Homeless Outreach Team said a high proportion of the people it encountered grappled with such issues.
Most of the funding will come through a federal block grant for substance abuse – some will come from a special countywide sales tax that raises money to address addiction and mental illness.
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The person joining the team will provide services to people addicted to opiates and other substances as well as coordinate care for those ready to get treatment.
“We’ve had a severe problem for the last 10 years with opioids,” said Jackie Mitchell, behavioral health program specialist with the Whatcom County Health Department.
Whatcom County ranks third out of 39 counties for overall negative impacts from heroin abuse and sixth for overall negative impacts from prescription opiates, according to a 2016-2019 Community Health Needs Assessment for PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.
In 2013, the county had the second highest rate of treatment admissions for opiates in Washington state, according to the health department.
Many teenagers and young adults who struggle with opioid addiction start by getting prescription drugs from the medicine cabinet, then move on to heroin, which is cheaper on the streets, when their supply of prescription drugs dwindle, according to Mitchell.
The situation isn’t all bleak in Whatcom County, though.
“The situation is slowly improving,” Mitchell said, adding the improvement was due to health care reform putting more money into behavioral health and the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization helping the county build a system to help people.
The federal money for the new position comes through North Sound.