Opioids and Heroin Forum helps inform and heal communities



Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon speaks about healing from addiction. Photo/Kalvin Valdillez
Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon speaks about healing from addiction. Photo/Kalvin Valdillez


by Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 


“Out of curiosity, how many folks here have someone they know who has an opioid addiction?” asked Tulalip Tribes Chairman, Mel Sheldon, at the Opioids and Heroin in Snohomish County community forum. In response, nearly everybody in the Orca Ballroom of the Tulalip Resort and Casino raised their hands.

“I’ve been to too many funerals supporting families who lost a loved one due to an overdose,” Mel continued. The first time he saw the effects of heroin was in the service. Mel witnessed G.I.’s fall victim to ‘China White’ the popular street name for the drug at the time.

Mel stressed that the forum was designed to inform and heal.  He understands the difficulties of addiction and spoke of his many years of sobriety from alcohol.


Dr. Gary Goldbaum
Dr. Gary Goldbaum


Before introducing guest speaker, Dr. Gary Goldbaum, Mel expressed that sharing is a part of the road to recovery and understanding, and that community is stronger by working as one. “When we share, we may hear something that inspires us, something that helps us. So when a friend says ‘I need some help’ we can give them the resources they need, and make a difference.”

Dr. Gary Goldbaum spoke about the epidemic that is destroying communities nationwide. He explained that is extremely difficult to quit once you have started using opioids. He showed side-by-side chemical structures of the prescription opioid OxyContin, prescribed for pain, and of heroin, revealing the two structures are nearly identical.

Because heroin produces the same effects to the human body as OxyContin, many people turn to heroin once their prescriptions run out. The price is cheaper and the demand is so high that the drug has become easily accessible. In recent years, deaths caused by heroin overdose have hit the community of Snohomish County extremely hard. For this reason Dr. Goldbaum believes that a major key in preventing people from trying opioids is education, and suggests that educating children at a young age would tremendously help stifle the epidemic. “This is beyond any one person,” he expressed. “This requires all of us.”

Goldbaum explained in detail what happens during the downward spiral of someone who is addicted to opioids. “Once a person becomes biologically dependent they are driven so hard to get the drug, that it comes at the expense of everything else in their life. Nothing is as important as getting the next fix, because withdrawal is painful.”

He went on to explain that the ‘miracle drug’, Naloxone, should be carried with addicts and friends and family members of addicts at all time. Naloxone saves lives by reversing an overdose in a matter of minutes.

Chief Carlos Echevarria of the Tulalip Police Department stated he shares the frustration and anger the community feels. He said that nearly every crime responded to is heroin related.

“It’s our number one concern,” Chief Echevarria said. “When I was about fifteen I lost two uncles. Last year I lost my brother due to an overdose, so I understand.” He shared that he felt the ‘what ifs’ and that he shared tears with parents in his office who were making funeral arrangements for their children.

Tulalip Health Program’s Annaliese Means and Tulalip community activist Rico Jones Fernandez both spoke of the epidemic ways to help the community.

The health clinic and community health program provides intake exams and counseling for recovering addicts, though treatment and most counseling takes place at Family Services.  The program also helps expecting mothers who are using to get and stay clean during pregnancy.

Rico was instrumental in the passing of Tulalip’s Good Samaritan Law and he also worked hard to get the health clinic’s pharmacy to distribute Naloxone. Rico is also known for running Tulalip’s Clean Needle Exchange Program, where he personally walks throughout the Tulalip Community picking up used needles. The exchange also makes clean needles easily accessible, preventing diseases such as HIV for addicts who would otherwise share needles.

Two speakers, Debbie Warfield and Jim Hillaire, each shared their heartbreaking stories of how heroin stole their children at young ages.

Debbie described her son, Spencer, as a normal kid who loved sports but hated school. Before Spencer started high school they noticed he started to display more aggressive-like behavior. Thinking it was just a phase and the growing pains of adolescence, Debbie didn’t look too far into the behavior at first. However, by the time Spencer reached high school he was diagnosed with depression and ADHD and was prescribed medication. The medication caused him to become distant in both his home and social lives.

Spencer graduated and attended Washington State University where he was diagnosed with anxiety, and this time, opioids were prescribed. Spencer then tried heroin. He went to treatment for 28 days, but eventually died from an overdose.

Jim recently lost his daughter Angelina. She fought a long hard battle with her heroin addiction. She would often get clean for extended periods of time, and then relapse. Each time she relapsed she made strong efforts to get clean again by going back to treatment.

Hillaire stated the entire staff at one of the treatment facilities loved Angelina so much, they invited her to stay and work for them. Ultimately, Angelina decided against staying because she wanted to be with her family. Angelina lost her heroin battle this past summer. Jim stressed that this epidemic is a sickness, similar to a zombie apocalypse, and urged “these people are not dead but are valuable. They are worth our time and our help.”

The major keys that Jim stressed repeatedly are that the entire community needs to be more involved in each other’s lives in order for change to happen, to revisit some of the traditional teachings and practice them at home, and the community also needs to understand what addicts are going through. “I never met one person that wanted to continue to be an addict,” Jim stated.


Chief Carlos Echevarria of the Tulalip Police Department.
Chief Carlos Echevarria of the Tulalip Police Department.


Chief Echevarria said the Tulalip Police Departments priority is to bust the small time dealers in the Tulalip community. The Chief will also continue to assist, in any way possible, with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department. Commander Pat Slack states that the Sheriff’s Department is focusing on catching the suppliers who are importing the heroin from Mexico.

The forum concluded with a Naloxone training to better equip attendees with the knowledge of how to revive a person who has overdosed.

Another forum will be held on October 13, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Edmonds Community College.

Contaminated heroin can cause botulism


Heroin users who inject the drug have been showing up at Harborview with Clostridium botulinum wound infections, better known as botulism.
Heroin users who inject the drug have been showing up at Harborview with Clostridium botulinum wound infections, better known as botulism.

Increased botulism infections seen in the region’s heroin users


Tulalip, Niki Cleary

                In an alert from the Snohomish County Health District, local health officials were notified that Harborview Medical Center is seeing more heroin users coming in with Clostridium botulinum wound infections. Their conclusion? Likely an infected batch of heroin is being sold in this area. While many community members may not recognize the bacterium, they’ll probably recognize it’s affects, widely known as botulism.

                “Normally we see this [botulism] in preserved foods,” said Bryan Cooper, ARNP Family Practice Provider at Tulalip’s Karen I Fryberg Health Clinic. “Tar heroin comes from a plant, it’s sap from the poppy, so basically the sugars there provide food for this particular bacteria. We talk about pasteurizing food, we kind of flash heat them to kill the bacteria, but they [drug dealers] don’t do that with heroin, because they don’t care.”

                In any case, killing the bacteria with heat won’t solve the problem.

                Cooper continued, “When users heat heroin to melt it and inject it, they kill the bacteria. But it’s not the bacteria that cause the symptoms. The bacteria produce a neurotoxin as a waste product, so even though the bacteria is dead, the neurotoxin is still there. The neurotoxin causes the double vision, slurred speech and other symptoms.”

                The neurotoxin causes paralysis. When the paralysis affects the heart or lungs, the affected person dies.

                “The treatment is to get an anti-toxin as soon as possible,” said Cooper. “Here’s the thing, if the onset is rapid, if it’s a high dose or you are susceptible to it, it can progress so fast that you don’t have signs and symptoms. When it goes to your respiratory system, it’s all over.”

                Things to look for: Double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth and muscle weakness. The user may also note blood colored discharge at the injection site.

                “People who have been around a heroin user will notice that they ar acting differently.” Cooper described the effects, “You don’t necessarily get slurred speech with heroin. Here, we’ll actually see drooping eyelids while the user is awake. There will be difficulty swallowing, and even when they’re not high, these symptoms won’t go away.

                “It can progress to death pretty quickly depending on the dose,” Cooper warned. “If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to neutralize the toxin as soon as possible. If we saw someone here with a confirmed case, we would send them to the emergency room and call the Snohomish County Health District so they could get the anti-toxin there right away.

                 “You can liken it to a snakebite,” Cooper said. A rattlesnake bite might be a low enough dose that you’ll live through it, but it’s not worth the risk of waiting. The sooner you receive the anti-venom, or in this case, the anti-toxin, the less damage it will cause.

                “Recovery from botulism can last for months,” Cooper explained. “You want to administer the anti-toxin as early as possible to reduce the severity. Even though you’ve given the anti-toxin, the damage is already done. Your body has to recover from that damage.”

                Injection is the likeliest way to contract botulism from heroin, but even smoking heroin doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be exposed to the disease.

                “Bad teeth, bleeding gums, these can all be entry ways for botulism toxin,” described Cooper. “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), inhalation botulism is similar to foodborne botulism, but symptoms become noticeable from one to three days after exposure. It’s possible that smoking contaminated heroin could cause a user’s clothing to be contaminated. The contaminated clothing could then expose others to the toxin. The WHO’s recommendation is for the patient to shower and their clothing to be stored in plastic until it can be decontaminated by washing in soap and water”

                Although, he acknowledges that heavy drug users may not notice if they are affected, Cooper explained that community members and other users can save a life by looking for these symptoms.

                “There are some of us who give people rides,” said Tulalip citizen Willa McLean, “so, awareness is crucial. In case we see something on the individual, we’ll know what to do.”

                Cooper pointed out that this won’t affect all needle users, for example, if you have diabetes and inject insulin, you are safe because the legal product you receive goes through numerous safeguards to ensure that it’s free from contaminants. Likewise, you can’t catch botulism the way you can catch the common cold.

                “Botulism is a toxin given off by bacteria, so when the user injects contaminated heroin and therefore the toxin, they are essentially poisoned. If the needle is shared, there’s a risk that there may be a small amount of toxin in the needle or syringe. It’s not a pathogen, therefore not blood borne, airborne or contagious.”

                For more information about botulism check on-line at http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/botulism/professional.html.

Task force fights back against drugs, gangs on tribal reservations


By Raeanna Marnati, KBJR 6

Red Cliff, Wisconsin ( NNCNOW.com)— It’s a rising problem on the Red Cliff Reservation. “We see a lot of marijuana, prescription medications are huge problem in our community, we’re starting to see heroin and methamphetamine come in, cocaine’s always been here,” said Red Cliff Police Chief Bill Mertig.

But tribal authorities are tackling the problem head first, thanks to the formation of the Native American Drug and Gang Initiative formed in 2007.

“We are able to focus on and share information on future gang trends, drug problems and then also to we can take these experts in the field and be able to work these investigations, knowing the community, knowing the players and be able to almost surgically identify and remove these threats,” said Bryan Kastelic, Native American Drug and Gang Initiative Task Force Commander.

The task force is made up of ten tribal police departments throughout Wisconsin.

It’s a collaboration between tribal, local, state and federal authorities to help with drug and gang identification on the reservation.

“It has the ability to shut the drug trade down be it for a few days or a few weeks but it still has the ability and it sends a signal that we will be back and that we are out there,” said Kastelic.

NADGI recently played a role in the arrest and apprehension of five people taking part in illegal drug activity on the Red Cliff Reservation.

Cash, guns, marijuana, and prescription pills were seized in the bust. But for the police, they have just scratched the surface

“We are not stopping at what we did, this is the start. We have a long way to get to the finish line,” said Mertig.

Officials with NADGI say a lack of support, manpower and funding among tribal police departments led to the formation.