North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Forum focuses on heroin


Christopher Andersson

Arlington Police Officer Rory Bolter, left, along with Snohomish Health District Director Dr. Gary Goldbaum, center, and Snohomish County Sheriff's Office Bureau Chief Mark Richardson answer audience questions at a community forum about heroin on Sept. 27.

Local health officials, parents and law enforcement officers came out to discuss the increasing role of heroin in today's society at the Byrnes Performing Arts Center on Sept. 27.

The Snohomish Health District and other local organizations like the Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition worked together to bring the heroin forum to the public.

"This a problem affecting every community across the United States, across the state and across this county," said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, director of the Snohomish Health District.

Overdose deaths related to opioids have increased every year since the early 2000s, he said, and plateaued in 2008.

That was the year that new national laws went into effect making it harder to abuse prescription drugs. Since that point, however, heroin deaths have been increasing in the county, as prescription drug abusers moved to the cheaper and easier-to-obtain heroin.

Debbie Warfield, a local parent, shared the story of her own son, Spencer Warfield, who unfortunately went down a similar path.

"Not all addicts are down on the street or homeless, some are in loving homes," she said. "Sports, friends and family were still a big part of his life," she said.

However, after the symptoms of mental health problems arose, Spencer's family took him to a psychiatrist where he was diagnosed with depression and ADHD and given medicine.

"This started a cycle of experimenting with prescription drugs to find something that could help with his depression ... at this time he started pulling away from friends and isolating himself from his family," said Debbie Warfield.

Eventually Spencer confessed to his parents that he had been abusing drugs, and he was taken to a detox center.

"We were naive at that time and thought that would be the fix," said Debbie Warfield.

After seeing other doctors he eventually was put on opioids for anxiety, and started using heroin after that. Four years ago Spencer Warfield passed away.

"Heroin creates a lot of blame and shame in the family. Not only from the person using, but everyone involved. The one thing we do feel good about is that we always treated Spencer with love and had his back and never put him out on the street," said Debbie Warfield.

Cleo Harris, who works for Snohomish County Human Services, said a support network makes recovery much easier.

"Without that support, that person will feel alone and think 'what's the point?' We can all make a difference and their lives matter," she said.

County officials are working on a more supportive environment overall. Harris said social workers now go out with county officers to help get people into treatment.

She acknowledges housing is still a huge problem though.

"Snohomish County is working on some low-barrier housing and some ways to help Oxford houses expand, but it does take some time," she said.

Debbie Warfield wanted to share her story to encourage more holistic treatments to addiction problems. "Both the addiction and mental illness must be treated together," she said. "Addiction is almost always accompanied by a mental illness," she said.

Goldbaum was skeptical that a prohibition policy will ever be completely effective, and said the better strategy is to focus efforts on recovery.

"You're not going to get rid of drugs. They've been around for thousands of years of human history. We experimented with prohibition and trying to completely sever the head of the dragon, and that didn't work, so if we're truly to address this we have to work upstream and build communities that are resilient," he said.

Arlington Police Officer Rory Bolter agreed that criminal enforcement can't solve the problem completely.

"We've been humbled by this. This is not something we've encountered in the past," he said. "In the past we have arrested our way out of issues, and that's not going to work this time."

The Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition works to fight the heroin epidemic in Snohomish County and more information about them is available on their Facebook page at


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