Pubdate: Wed, 08 Dec 1999
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Copyright: 1999 Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Author: Neil Modie, Seattle Post-intelligencer Reporter
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Heroin-treatment programs in King County soon might be allowed to handle
more addicts, but legislation moving through the County Council would
barely meet the current demand.

The council's Law, Justice and Human Services Committee yesterday approved
a measure that would allow 3,150 addicts into methadone treatment programs,
50 percent more than the existing 2,100 licensed treatment slots.

Several hundred addicts of heroin and other opiates are on waiting lists to
get into the three existing clinics that use methadone or other opiate
substitutes to treat addiction, said Norma Jaeger, coordinator of the
county's alcohol and substance abuse services.

Only four Washington counties -- King, Pierce, Spokane and Yakima -- have
such programs.

Getting more addicts into methadone programs, Jaeger told the council
committee, will "reduce crime and transmission of communicable diseases"
such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

In the meantime, the number of opiate-overdose deaths in King County is
rising sharply -- from three per 100,000 residents in 1990 to nine in 1998,
when the county recorded 144 such deaths.

The county is estimated to have as many as 13,000 people addicted to
heroin, morphine and other opiates.

At clinics run by Evergreen Treatment Services, said Executive Director Ron
Jackson, 180 addicts are on the waiting list. Half of those would be able
to pay for treatment with their own money or through medical insurance if
treatment slots were available.

However, state law limits the number of patients in a licensed
opiate-substitution treatment program to 350, and county law limits the
number of licenses to six.

The proposed ordinance approved by the County Council committee would
increase that number to nine. It will go before the full council on Monday.

The county has only three licensed opiate-substitution treatment programs,
of which two provide publicly as well as privately financed treatment and
one is entirely privately financed. But the county issues multiple licenses
to two of the programs, each of which therefore is allowed to treat up to
875 addicts.

The proposed legislation, recommended by the county Board of Health, would
allow new licenses to be given to new or existing treatment providers
through a competitive selection process. The county currently grants
licenses by the order in which applications are received.

The measure also would transfer licensing responsibility from the county
Department of Health to the Department of Community and Human Services.
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