Drug Abuse Trends in the Seattle/King County Area, Washington: June 2013

Caleb Banta-Green, T. Ron Jackson, Steve Freng, Michael Hanrahan, Cynthia Graff, Steve Reid, John Ohta, Mary Taylor, Richard Harruff, Robyn Smith, and Geoff Miller

Summary of Key Findings for the 2012 Reporting Period:

  • There was an increase in heroin, along with a geographical spread to nonmetropolitan areas.
  • There was also an increase in use among young adults, and a decrease in prescription-type opiate indicators.


Cocaine indicators have been down for the past several years, including police evidence, drug-involved deaths, and primary treatment admissions. Methamphetamine indicators, including deaths, have increased in the last 1 to 2 years.


First-time heroin treatment admissions were up in 2012, particularly for young adults age 18–29, with a faster rate of growth outside of King County. Police evidence positive for heroin was up substantially in King County and across much of the State. Heroin-involved deaths were up again in 2012, with the increase primarily among those younger than 30 in King County. Prescription-type opiate-involved deaths continued to decrease, as did police evidence for these substances.


Marijuana use is widespread; treatment admissions have held fairly steady in recent years. In 2012, approximately one-half of admissions were younger than 18, and three-quarters were male, showing very different demographic characteristics compared with other drugs. Although perceptions of risk associated with marijuana have decreased over the past decade, past-month use among 10th graders has remained steady.

MDMA/Synthetic Drugs

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) indicators remained low. Cannabimimetics (synthetic cannabis, e.g., “Spice,” “K2”) and substituted cathinones (synthetic drugs related to the plant khat and colloquially, but incorrectly, called “bath salts”) are occasionally detected in law enforcement evidence.

Infectious Diseases

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) incidence and prevalence remained low; hepatitis C prevalence among injection drug users was very high (75 percent); and utilization of the syringe exchange was extremely high, with more than 5,000,000 syringes distributed in 2012.

Education/Treatment programs

Overdose education/naloxone programs and resources are increasing, and the antidote naloxone (Narcan®) is now available in multiple types of settings in the county and increasingly statewide.

For inquiries concerning this report, contact Caleb Banta-Green, M.S.W., M.P.H, Ph.D., Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, University of Washington, 1107 N.E. 45th Street, Suite 120, Seattle, WA 98105, Phone: 206–685–3919, Fax: 206–543–5473, E-mail: calebbg@u.washington.edu.