Peninsula health officials applaud governor’s interest in stemming opioid abuse

Gov. Inslee’s executive order on preventing opioid addiction and overdose deaths is praised by local leaders.

Christopher Frank

Christopher Frank

Public health officials of the North Olympic Peninsula are touting Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to curb the opioid epidemic.

Inslee on Friday announced an executive order for state agencies to work with public health organizations, law enforcement, tribes and other officials to prevent opioid addiction and overdose deaths.

“I think it’s great that the governor is putting his weight behind the issue,” said Dr. Christopher Frank, Clallam County public health officer.

The idea of the plan is to prevent addiction by changing prescription patterns, to treat people who are already addicted and to stop overdoses from becoming fatal through the use of naloxone, an opioid antidote that has been proven to save lives on the Peninsula.

Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County public health officer, said the initiative is “promoting actions that are already underway.”

“None of these efforts are starting from scratch,” Locke said.

“We know how to fix this. We just have to get organized and do a better job. To the extent that we do that, we’ll see results, and we’ll see them very quickly.”

The executive order aims to prevent over-prescribing of highly-addictive painkillers, particularly to adolescents, and expanded prevention education.

Eighty percent of those who use heroin became addicted to opioids by taking prescription pills, Frank said.

There were 718 opioid overdose deaths in the state last year and 188 in the first three months of this year, according to Inslee’s office.

Clallam County still has one of the highest overdose death rates in the state — there were five reported in the first six months of this year — and Jefferson County is above the state average, health officials have said.

Frank championed the mandated reporting of fatal and non-fatal opioid overdoses by hospitals and the Clallam County coroner.

“Any death from a narcotic overdose is a tragedy because it is a preventable death,” Locke said. “It’s just something that should not happen.”

The governor’s plan expands access to opioid treatment medications such as Suboxone, which reduces physical cravings but does not produce the same high.

Last February, the Clallam County jail became the first on the West Coast to launch a medically-assisted Suboxone treatment program for inmates.

While Clallam County has 12 providers who are certified to prescribe Suboxone, Jefferson County has only three, Locke said.

“We have to ramp up our capacity for treatment for opioid use disorder,” Locke said. “We’ve got to make that treatment available for anyone who wants it.”

Frank said the governor’s initiative has the potential to centralize the naloxone procurement process.

Naloxone has saved dozens of lives on the Peninsula by reversing the effects of opioids during an overdose. The medication allows a person to breathe long enough for medical help to arrive.

Port Angeles police officers began carrying naloxone in March 2015 thanks to a pair of grants from Kaléo, a Virginia pharmaceutical company.

Officers saved 13 lives in the program’s first year and five lives in one week this past March, Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith has said.

The Clallam and Jefferson County syringe exchange programs provide naloxone and offer addiction support services through various funding sources.

Clallam County commissioners last year approved a $20,000 expenditure for naloxone, which the health department used to reverse 14 opioid overdoses in 2015.

“Hopefully this executive order will eventually bring some funding stability to some of these critical services,” Frank said.

Under the executive order, data will be used to identify patients who obtain prescription painkillers from multiple providers and high-volume prescribers, Frank said.

A combination of financial resources and community engagement could begin to stem the opioid epidemic, he added.

“Opioid problems are not new, and they’ve been cyclical over hundreds of years,” Frank said.

“This will improve, but it won’t happen overnight.”


Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at

Tom Locke

Tom Locke

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