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Opiate trends across Washington state: Crime lab

Crime lab data from the Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau: An "opioid case" refers to a unique FLSB case number with at least one result positive for any opioid (see more on opioid sub-types below). Only crime lab submissions from an agency clearly operating within a single county were associated with a county. Those originating from multi-county agencies, such as cross-jurisdiction drug task forces, some Washington State Patrol detachments, state or federal parks agencies, or federal law enforcement, are included in the state-wide rate. Changes in county rates may therefore reflect changes in the share of seizures by such agencies. Rates in the bubble/motion chart below are smoothed via a running 3-year average.

Crime lab cases reflect a combination of who gets arrested, which cases get prosecuted, which items get sent to a lab for testing, and whether the items have sufficient quantity to be tested. Rates and trends may thus be influenced by policy and practice factors such as attention to distribution and diversion of non-violent users. The growth of opioid cases in border counties such as Clark (I-5), Whatcom (I-5 plus 2 other border crossings), and Benton (I-82) may reflect major points of entry. Spokane County, however, has seen almost no growth, but has had the attention of cross-jurisdiction agencies such as the Spokane Regional Drug Task Force.

Crime lab cases involving any opioid: Most growth outside King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties

Data sources: Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, Washington State Patrol (cases), Washington State Office of Financial Management (population)

Opiate cases by subtype over time

We track statewide crime lab cases involving any opioid over time, comparing cases involving heroin to the number involving any other kind of opioid. The latter is further broken down into those nominally used for pharmaceutical purposes--i.e. those legal to obtain with a proper prescription, although no prescription may have been involved in the case--and those opioids not currently available by prescription. This latter sub-category, which includes opium as well as synthetics such as acetyl fentanyl, is quite small. Turn off the other series (by clicking the entries in the legend) to see changes in this sub-category over time.

Data source: Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, Washington State Patrol

Heroin cases versus other opioid cases over time

Over the period available, watch as some counties increase their share of opioid cases with prescription-type or other non-heroin opioids (i.e. move to the right). Around 2008 to 2010, however, these counties began transitioning in the other direction, up and to the left, as the share of heroin cases (vertical axis) increased and the rate of other opioid cases (horizontal axis) decreased. (Hint: Click on Cowlitz County, then press the play button at lower left. Compare Cowlitz to the state-wide rates by also clicking on STATE.) To stabilize the bubbles, these are 3-year running average rates per 100,000 residents, so "2003" represents the average rate over 2002 through 2004.

Crime lab cases comparison (of smoothed rates) by primary opioid category over time, by Washington county

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Data sources: Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, Washington State Patrol (cases), Washington State Office of Financial Management (population)

Heroin cases: Spreading to rural areas

Data sources: Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, Washington State Patrol (cases), Washington State Office of Financial Management (population)

Other opioid cases: Scattered increases

Data sources: Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, Washington State Patrol (cases), Washington State Office of Financial Management (population)