When ambulance crews arrived they had to use naloxone, a drug that displaces opioids from receptors in the brain, to revive Trevor Pitchforth. Twice.
For Pitchforth, 23, the most profound moment came when first responders cut his shirt off and shoved tubes down his throat to remove the vomit he inhaled while overdosing.
This all happened in 2014, the deadliest year for opioid overdoses nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Washington has been in the midst of a heroin epidemic since at least 2013, according to public health officials and law enforcement.
The CDC reported 28,000 opiate-related deaths nationwide in 2014. The Washington State Department of Health reported 600 deaths in the state that same year, and 62 in Clark County.
“Opioid-related deaths are killing more people than car crashes right now,” said Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick.
Fortunately, there are local options for addicts on the road to recovery, including one located in Vancouver, only a couple miles from Clark.
Kleen Street’s Recovery Cafe is a facility offering sober-living housing, job placement and recovery coaching services in Vancouver. Jeff Talbott, a veteran and recovering addict with three years of sobriety, and his brother, Joe Wild, who’s been sober for six years, opened the facility in 2013 after seeing many returning veterans who were hooked on opiates due to combat injuries.
“The heroin that’s out there is killing these kids left and right,” Talbott said.
A bill signed into law on April 18 and set to go into effect at the end of June may finally give families more options to help their loved ones fight heroin addiction. “Ricky’s Law” will allow parents to force their child, even if they aren’t a minor, to participate in treatment and rehab programs.
Rep. Jim Moeller, a Democrat from Washington’s 49th Legislative District and candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored the bill. Moeller said the law will provide $20 million to open nine detox facilities beginning in 2018, and will provide $500,000 for training in June.
“This is another tool for us to fight the opioid epidemic,” said Moeller, a chemical dependency counselor for 30 years. “It’s a last ditch effort.”
Jerri Stanley, director of Kleen Street’s Recovery Cafe and the nextdoor Kleen Street Community Club, said forcing an addict into recovery is often the last option to get them to make better choices.
“As a society, we have to take a stand somewhere,” Stanley said. “It may be the last chance of options.”
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office has begun training deputies to carry naloxone, a nasal spray, according to Sgt. Fred Neiman. The Vancouver Police Department is also considering carrying the medicine, but is weighing the amount of training necessary and liability concerns, according to Cmdr. David King.
State law allows anyone who may have or witness an opiate overdose to obtain naloxone and administer it to someone who is overdosing. Naloxone is being offered to the public at local pharmacies, and the Clark County Needle Exchange has offered kits since April 2014.
In less than two years, the program has distributed 1,036 kits to 433 people. In that time, 195 overdose reversals have been reported by clients.
Located on East Fourth Plain Boulevard, the Needle Exchange provides addicts with clean needles and supplies to help reduce the spread of disease. Addicts can also receive referrals to other community agencies, including drug treatment.
Needle Exchange Director Sandra Kendrick said many heroin addicts become addicted through prescribed opiate painkillers, such as vicodin, oxycontin and percocet. County Public Health Epidemiologist Adiba Ali issued a survey to clients in 2012 and found that 63 percent reported having been addicted to prescription painkillers before moving on to heroin.
But prescription drugs aren’t the only path to addiction. Pitchforth was looking for an escape from depression and picked up heroin after seeing his friends use it.
“When it was offered up to me, I took it,” Pitchforth said. “I was already failing school, I was already doing all the wrong things, so I was thinking, ‘what else could happen?’ and that’s when I did heroin.”
Pitchforth spent a year in prison after being caught with heroin in 2013, beginning a downward spiral of criminal behavior. King said it is common for addicts to resort to property theft to support their addiction.
“I’d wake up and be feeling sick, and the first person I would call or text was my mom, asking for some money,” Pitchforth said. “Usually she told me no, but when she told me no I’d go and either stand on the corner and try to get some money panhandling, or I’d go to Walmart or a supermarket and steal clothing or video games and trade it off for some heroin.”
After his third revival, Pitchforth showed up at Kleen Street’s Recovery last January and has been sober ever since.
“They asked me if I was ready to change my life, and I was,” Pitchforth said.
Pitchforth found a job and a place to live through Kleen Street’s Recovery. Last Christmas he proposed to his girlfriend, whom he met in recovery. They will be getting married on June 12.
“Our main thing, I believe, is if we can just make a dent then we’ve made a difference,” Talbott said.
Addicts can reach Kleen Street’s Recovery by calling 360-693-0651 or visiting their Facebook page, Grounds4RecoveryCafe. Clark students struggling with addiction can also visit the Counseling and Health Center at HSC 124 or call 360-992-2614.