Q&A with Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, Spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department
The heroin crisis has affected your family?
Yes. Two years ago, my older brother passed away from a heroin injection. An overdose. He was 44. It was incredibly hard. I found out about it while I was up working in Oso during the landslide. We were close all our lives. As we both grew into adulthood, he struggled with addiction. It was hard to watch. My brother didn’t have much of a criminal history. He’d been to treatment. We didn’t know he was using heroin. I suspected it. But I also worked in drug court. I worked with people who struggled with addiction. I saw hundreds of people like my brother.
And based on what I experienced, which was eye-opening, people need to make choices about their lives. You can direct them, you can prod them, you can plead, you can coerce. But they have to choose. You can’t make the choice for them.
I couldn’t choose sobriety for my brother. So the best thing you can do in the meantime is make sure you’ve got sound policies around the issue and make sure it’s a compassionate approach. It’s a deeply personal reminder of how vicious and unforgiving and awful the heroin epidemic is. Police see that all the time. Firefighters see it. The public sees it. It’s not something that gets talked about.
Under Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s leadership, we’re finally able to say that SPD bike officers are going to be able to deploy naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, to people in need who have overdosed. It’s a relatively inexpensive drug that police can use during an overdose to save someone’s life. It’s a big commitment, but it’s time. It absolutely would have saved [my brother’s] life. He died in a restroom in North Seattle.
What else should people know?
The Good Samaritan law grants people immunity when they’re reporting an overdose to 911. People still think they’re going to get in trouble, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. In a state of overdose, seconds count. You have to get the person help right away. It has to get into the collective psyche that you need to call for help. It’s very risky to inject. We’ve said it before: If you’re going to inject, at least do it with someone else in case something goes wrong, so they can call and ask for help.