Drug problems persist on island, VYFS to offer treatment soon

Island authorities continue to monitor locations on Vashon where illicit drug activity is thought to occur, and many of those involved feel a difference is sorely needed. Meanwhile, Vashon Youth & Family Services will again offer substance abuse counseling as part of its regular assembly of social services.

An islander who asked to remain anonymous has lived across the street from a suspected drug house for three years and says that most activity begins after the waiting police presence is gone.

“There are some neighbors up the street that know what’s going on, and they’re starting to get ticked off too,” said the resident, who described witnessing up to five cars at a time per night make intermittent stops outside the suspect dwelling. Some of the individuals seen entering and exiting the property will often be carrying briefcases, according to the resident, who has diligently taken down license plates and logged times of the day to give police reliable leads, but little to nothing has changed.

“Everybody knows this is going on, on the island,” said the resident. “I don’t know how to stop it. It’s horrible, and this just goes on.”

Last week on a community Facebook page, more islanders shared their dismay at stories of alleged drug deals and users congregating at a location near the post office, frightening some who live nearby.

Eyewitness accounts of suspected drug activity immediately warrant a call to the King County Sheriff’s Office, according to spokesperson Sgt. Ryan Abbott.

“They need to call us and let us know what’s going on,” he said. “What we’re looking for is short-stay traffic — cars that are coming or going usually for a long period of time and then they leave; people coming all hours of the day and night.”

In other words, report anything out of the ordinary.

“We document stuff like that, and then our plain clothes detectives will check it out. Depending on what we’re dealing with, we try to close it down or get them out of the area, something along those lines,” said Abbott.

Kurt Lysen, a King County sheriff’s deputy who lives and works on the island, believes that a streamlined justice system would be of major assistance to the officers leading cases like these.

“The courts have our hands tied with the ways we can infiltrate the drug traders,” he said, speaking for all law enforcement. “I do my best tracking down and documenting what I can send to the appropriate agency.”

Records show that from Jan. 1, 2017, to the present, there were only five drug-related calls made to the sheriff’s office from Vashon. Three of those calls ended as arrests. There were four reported cases of overdoses from heroin use, and on two of those occasions, the drug Narcan, or Naloxone – an opioid antagonist inhalant — was administered to recover the individuals.

Assistant Fire Chief Bob Larsen says that when his team has to respond to emergency overdose calls, they are usually accidental in nature.

“We get a certain amount of overdoses each year. Accidental medications are the majority of what we get. We don’t have a huge volume of illegal drugs,” he said.

At the Vashon Pharmacy, there is a drug return bin for unused medications but no safe disposal for used syringes and needles, according to owner Tyler Young. The city of Seattle has a sharps collection pilot program with bins in several locations. The nearest collection site to Vashon-Maury is south of West Seattle at Roxhill Park.

Larsen says that if you discover a loved one in the midst of an overdose to remain calm and dial for help.

“Call 911 if you find them. If they’re having a drug reaction or suspected of having an overdose of something, they need medical intervention.”

Abbott said that shutting down suspected drug houses is a tedious process, but the reasons for that are simple.

“We have to look into it to make sure. A lot of times, people might think something is going on, but it might not be. We have to prove that the people are selling drugs,” he said.

He recommends calling the office’s non-emergency line at 206-296-3311 to make an official report, and a deputy will be dispatched to take a closer look. Reports can be filed anonymously by phone and also online.

“People can always stay confidential. We know that people don’t want the drama, especially if they’re neighbors,” he said. “If they’re worried about some type of backlash because of it, that’s always an option as well.”

Abbott says that if anyone would like to know about the progress being made into an investigation of a particular case, they are welcome to inquire and file a public disclosure request to find out what is being done. Detectives, he says, are usually working multiple cases at a time and it may be difficult to track down information quickly if a report was originally filed anonymously.

Pertinently, Vashon Youth & Family Services will soon again offer substance abuse programming as part of a new effort to combat addiction on the island.

Barbara Garrett, director of clinical services, says that her staff is waiting on the state to approve their license application so VYFS can begin to offer the counseling.

“We’re going to start with the basics, and then our plan is to develop as we define community needs,” she said, “but we’re going to start a basic treatment program for alcohol abuse, drug abuse [and] poly drug abuse.”

Poly drug abuse is a form of substance abuse in which dangerous drugs are combined for an increased high, posing deleterious, harmful effects to the individual.

“A chemical dependency professional will be providing the treatment, both individual and group treatment. First we need to get the license and get a basic treatment program set up,” said Garrett.

The decision to bring back substance abuse counseling on Vashon originally came from worry about the limited resources available to young people on-island.

“[We were] specifically thinking about the high school because at this time, all people, young people, really have to go off island to get treatment, and as we know, this can be a barrier for many people,” said Garrett.

She noted that VYFS has worked with the prevention specialist in Vashon High School for some time. The specialist is able to professionally identify behaviors that may indicate a student is facing a crisis before connecting them with help.

As the opioid epidemic continues to tear across the country, ensuring that adequate behavioral and substance abuse counseling is available in every community is a major priority, says Garrett.

“We were hoping to be licensed sooner than this, but it takes time,” she said. “The mission of the VYFS is to try to be responsive to the needs in our community, and I think that’s what this is all about.”