The car sat abandoned in a Bainbridge Island driveway. Police were baffled about why it was left behind, until they peered inside where hundreds of syringes lay strewn about the cabin.
The abandoned 1998 Lincoln Continental found on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 4 was merely the latest in a trend of heroin-related incidents on the island. Police reports over the past year show an increasing presence of the drug on the island, more so than other drugs commonly encountered by officers.
“Heroin has floated to the top over the last year,” said Bainbridge Island Police Commander Sue Shultz.
During the same week the car was found abandoned with hundreds of needles inside, a thief was caught fishing money out of a toll box at a ferry terminal parking lot.
The young man, caught in the act, told police that he was a heroin addict and was stealing to “get by.”
And last week, another alleged toll thief attempted to bargain for less jail time with officers in exchange for information on island heroin dealers.
The heroin-related calls seems almost constant. In August, police entered a nine-bedroom home on Bergman Road to serve an arrest warrant and found their suspect, among other users, with a swollen arm from recent heroin use. That same day police encountered a suspicious person in front of the Safeway on High School Road. In his possession was paraphernalia used for injecting heroin. Aluminum cans forged into smoking devices — also for heroin — were tossed in the bushes nearby.
The reports continue on back throughout the year and include multiple overdoses, including one incident in March when a woman overdosed on heroin at her home near Fletcher Bay.
Suquamish police reports indicate that drug users are gathering underneath the Agate Pass Bridge, and police have found the syringes they’ve left behind.
It’s clear to island police that heroin has recently become a drug of choice on Bainbridge.
But it’s not so much a new drug on the block as it is a shift in a trend, police said.
Island officers previously saw the prevalence of Oxycodone being used on the island. Oxycodone is a pharmaceutical opiate obtained through a prescription, and it’s common for users to crush the pill and smoke the drug.
Pharmaceutical companies, however, caught on and changed the way Oxycodone is manufactured in an attempt to combat the illegal use of the drug.
“They made the pill uncrushable and unsmokable,” Shultz said.
A lateral move from Oxycodone for an opiate high can be heroin, which also has other attractive aspects to drug users, officials said.
“The cheaper alternative is actually heroin,” Shultz said.
Shultz said that officers’ interactions with addicts, and recovering addicts on the island, indicate that many are making the move from smoking Oxycodone to injecting heroin.
“We are not seeing the oxy anymore,” Shultz said. “And the individuals we’ve made contact with and have gotten off of heroin have discussed going from oxy to heroin.”
But the heroin trend isn’t confined within the borders of Bainbridge.
Rather, officials note the island is in sync with the rest of Kitsap County.
“Everything is pointing to an increase in heroin use,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, director of health for the Kitsap Public Health District.
The health district has noticed the rise in use across the county, but exact numbers are difficult to produce.
“Obviously, nobody signs up to be registered as a heroin user,” Lindquist said.
“It’s not like you can get a really good number,” he said of attempts to quantify the rise in the use of the drug. “The way to get at some of this data is through more objective things.”
Objective things include the rising needle exchange rate the health district has seen over the past year, or the direct contact with the drug-using community by district outreach workers.
“They are reporting that a lot more folks are using heroin on the street,” Lindquist said.
Lindquist also said that opiate use is generally popular in the county, from using pills such as Oxycodone, to shooting heroin, but he is getting the same information as the police department about the rise in popularity of heroin.
“Our street folks are saying it’s a lot cheaper to use heroin,” he said.
While the spread of heroin across the county is concerning, Lindquist said that the problem hits home for him.
“Personally, the number of people on Bainbridge that I know who abuse heroin has gone up,” he said.
“I see it in patients that are coming to me for heroin addiction,” Lindquist said. “Or friends of my family who are calling me and asking where they can get family members into opiate addiction recovery.”
It continues to surprise him.
“How is this hidden and I don’t know that a friend of mine is a heroin addict?” Lindquist said.
Lindquist said one action to combat opiate use is for parents to be active in preventing youth from obtaining prescription opiates.
“Because their kids are getting into their cabinets and getting those opiates,” he said. “Whether it’s grandma or mom and dad; they are getting it.”
The Bainbridge Island Police Station has a drop-off box for any old or unused medications. Lindquist also recommends taking any unused prescriptions back to a pharmacy for disposal.
There is no exact reason as to why people experiment with heroin or other opiates. Many users first experience the drugs by swallowing them, according to Lindquist.
“But it takes more and more over time to get high,” he said. “Once you are into the injection mode, it’s done. You are hooked.”
“They aren’t doing it at that point to get high,” Lindquist added. “They are just doing it to feel ‘normal.’”