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Seattle's 'Radical Approach' To Heroin Epidemic Featured On PBS Documentary

PBS 'Frontline'
"Chasing Heroin" focuses on Seattle's heroin epidemic.

Seattle’s heroin epidemic is the focus of tonight's episode [February 23] of the PBS series "Frontline".

“Chasing Heroin” airs at 9 p.m. on KCTS-TV. The documentary looks at  King County’s LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program, calling it a “radical new approach” to fighting the epidemic. Here is the trailer for “Chasing Heroin.”

LEAD gives police the option of connecting addicts who are arrested for petty crimes with treatment, housing and social services instead of sending them to jail.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says the program grew out of a unique collaboration between prosecutors, defense attorneys, police and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“And we just kind of came together and said we need another option. The option of taking people to jail isn’t working,” Satterberg said.

A University of Washington study shows that LEAD participants are 60 percent less likely to be rearrested than addicts not in the program.

Still, the region’s heroin problem is worse than ever. Overdose deaths are up.

Law enforcement and public health officials say one problem is that there aren’t enough treatment slots available to all the people who need them.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.