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Heroin Deaths Level Off In King County

Drug paraphernalia, including needles, collected in a Seattle neighborhood.

A University of Washington report on drug addiction in King County confirms that heroin use is still on the rise. But for the first time, researchers say opioid-related deaths are leveling off.

According to the report from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington, more people sought treatment for heroin than alcohol for the first time in 2015. That might sound like bad news, but public health experts say the availability and range of treatments is improving, and that’s leading more people to recovery. And the drugs that treat heroin addiction, like methadone and buprenorphine cut a user’s chance of dying by half.

Research Scientist Caleb Banta-Green says if these drugs become more available through local doctors, heroin deaths could start to decline.

“It appears that the increase in treatment capacity and people entering treatment is happening at the same time that we’re getting a leveling off in overdose deaths and this is also happening as we’re increasing the supply of the antidote, naloxone to the community. And it would make sense that those things go together,” he said.

But Banta-Green says there’s still a long way to go. He estimates that, statewide, treatment capacity would need to more than double to take care of the number of people addicted.