Seattle Opiate Deaths Illustrate Problem Across the Country

Seattle city in the night.

From Seattle, a report has just come out that illustrates the migration from prescription pain pill abuse to the use of heroin, with deadly results. This is a tragic trend that has been seen in every corner of our country. In New England, the effect of this migration has been particularly brutal.

You may have already heard about this trend in your local newspapers. It’s been on the front pages for the last few years—local kids dying from heroin overdoses to the total astonishment and shock of their families. The potency of heroin is so variable that just because these teens and young adults survived their abuse of prescription drugs, a highly potent dose of heroin could catch them completely off guard and end their chances of recovery, happiness or success in life, forever.

chart of King County WA heroin deaths
Image source:
A graph from this new report shows the interrelationship between heroin and prescription drugs. The blue line that goes so high is the deaths in King County (the county Seattle is in) from prescription drugs. You see them peak and then drop pretty drastically.

The red line that is coming up to meet it is the deaths from heroin. You see that they fell as prescription painkiller deaths increased back before the new millennium and then they began to climb again. The climb of heroin deaths started in 2010. That’s the year that the first prescription painkiller was converted to a tamper-resistant formula—this was OxyContin. After hydrocodone, Oxys were the most popular drug of abuse. As soon as this pill changed, drug users immediately began to migrate to heroin.

The other change is that state after state changed their laws so they could run out pill mills—unscrupulous pain management clinics that just existed to dispense pills and make millions of dollars. As pills became harder to acquire, even more people migrated to the easier-to-get, cheaper heroin.

Don’t think these changes have been missed by drug dealers and cartels. They keep track of these trends and adjust their business operations accordingly.

If this makes you feel like you have a big target painted on your back, well, there’s some truth to that. Drug cartels will always be looking for more customers. Their WORST customer is a person who enjoys life and realizes the deadly dangers of these drugs. I hope that includes you. Your only safety is in staying away from all these drugs that are ending the lives of our loved ones.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.