Seattle's growing heroin problem sees national attention in "Chasing Heroin," a PBS "Frontline" documentary.

Share story

A documentary that aired Tuesday evening gives a revealing glimpse of the Seattle area’s heroin problem and features gripping local stories of the damage the drug has wrought on the region.

Of course, Seattle is not alone. “Chasing Heroin,” produced by PBS’ “Frontline,” examines the national context of the growing problem and how the rise of prescription drugs precipitated the crisis.

In the Seattle area, the documentary explores, with some skepticism, treatment and policy options like methadone clinics, drug courts and Seattle’s LEAD program, which allows nonviolent drug offenders to avoid prosecution.

The film features prominent Seattle voices on addiction, such as King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and the ACLU’s Alison Holcomb.

But perhaps most compelling are the personal stories of addiction, such as that of Marah Williams, who died of a heroin overdose at 19. Penny LeGate, Williams’ mother, shared her story with Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur in 2012.

Heroin deaths have been on the rise in King County since 2009, with a 58 percent spike in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available.

Public-health agencies and police here have turned to new solutions. For example, the LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program is designed to funnel low-level drug users to social-service programs instead of jail cells. A University of Washington study of the pioneering program found that the program was reducing recidivism rates.

Meanwhile, some health experts are encouraging the use of buprenorphine, which is marketed as suboxone, to help people overcome addiction. Similar to methadone, buprenorphine reduces withdrawals and cravings. Unlike methadone, it can be administered at home.