Secure Medicine Return…Now Available Statewide!

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Secure medicine return has been a major area of focus for Skagit County Public Health for several years now. You may have seen return boxes popping up here and there over the past 2-3 years at police departments, pharmacies, and county buildings. You might have also taken part in one of our local take back events, hosted by law enforcement and prevention coalitions, which take place every April and October.

What you may not know though is that Washington State only just recently adopted a statewide Secure Medicine Return Program, which officially launched on November 21! If you have questions about the program, and about how to dispose of your unused or expired medication, please read on…

What is the Secure Medication Program?

Safe Medication Return is a unified, statewide program that gives Washington residents free, convenient, and environmentally responsible options to dispose of unwanted medication. Drug manufacturers fund the program at no cost to taxpayers.

Safe Medication Return is operated by MED-Project, which is the approved program operator. The Washington State Department of Health oversees the establishment of the program, monitors on-going operations, manages enforcement when compliance issues arise, and evaluates program effectiveness.

Why is secure medication disposal important?

Properly disposing unused and expired medication is a great way to protect your family and your community. Research has shown that unused, unwanted, and/or expired medicines in your home pose an increased risk for drug misuse/abuse. Local data has shown that the home medicine cabinet is one of the most common places for people to go when looking for drugs to get high.

Accidental poisoning is also of major concern. Many young children get poisoned by taking medicine not intended for them. If medication is left out or stored improperly, the likelihood of little hands getting hold of these medications is quite high.

Lastly, disposing of medications improperly is bad for the environment. When medicines are flushed down the toilet or thrown in the trash, it pollutes our water and soil.

How does it work?

There are two main ways to return your unused medication. Both options are FREE.

  • Mail in your unused medication
    • Request a free prepaid envelope and one will be sent to you by mail.
    • Place your unused medication in the envelope
    • Mail the package as you would any other parcel.
  • Take it to a drop off site
    • Find your nearest drop off site, and deposit your medication in the kiosk. That’s it!
    • You do not need to provide an ID, talk with anyone, or complete paperwork.

What medicines are accepted by MED-Project? 

Medicines in any form including solids, liquids or patches, inhalers and prefilled products containing a sharp and auto-injectors (such as Epi Pens). This can include:

  • Prescription and over the counter medicines
  • Brand name and generic medicines
  • Controlled substances
  • Pet medications 

What medicines are NOT accepted?

  • Vitamins or supplements
  • Herbal-based remedies and homeopathic drugs, products or remedies
  • Cosmetics, shampoos, sunscreen, toothpaste, lip balm, antiperspirants or other personal care products
  • Pet pesticide products contained in pet collars, powders, shampoos or other forms
  • Medical sharps (needles, syringes) and empty auto injectables (such as used Epi Pens)
  • Medical devices
  • Medicines generated by businesses

For more information, visit the WA Department of Health’s Secure Medication webpage here. You can also contact Skagit County Public Health either by email at eh@co.skagit.wa.us or by phone (360) 416-1500.

Thank you for taking this extra step to ensure the safety of your friends and neighbors!


Returning Home After A Flood

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When returning to a home that’s been flooded after a natural disaster, be aware that your house may be contaminated by floodwaters, mold, or sewage, all of which can cause health risks for your family. Below are some tips for Skagitonians who may be returning home after flooding.

When you first reenter your home.

Before returning home, make sure that it is safe to do so. Always pay attention to authorities for information and instructions. 

When it is safe, try to return to your home during the daytime so that you do not have to use any lights. Use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles or gas lanterns. Please keep the following in mind:

  • If you have standing water in your home and can turn off the main power from a dry location, then go ahead and turn off the power, even if it delays cleaning. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off. NEVER turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows, and leave your house immediately. Notify the gas company or the police or fire departments or State Fire Marshal’s office, and do not turn on the lights or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return until you are told it is safe to do so.
  • If the house has been closed for several days, enter briefly to open doors and windows to let the house air out for a while (at least 30 minutes) before you stay for any length of time.
  • If your home has been flooded and has been closed for several days, assume your home has been contaminated by floodwater, sewage, and/or mold. See Floodwater After a Disaster or Emergency.

Stay out of floodwater.

Floodwaters contain many things that may harm health. It is important to protect yourself from exposure to floodwater regardless of the source of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the water.

If you come in contact with floodwater:

  • Wash with soap and clean water as soon as possible. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or sanitizer.
  • Take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent before reusing them.

If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.

Throw away unsafe food.

Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water; perishable foods that have not been refrigerated properly due to power outages; and those with an unusual odor, color, or texture. Unsafe food can make you sick even if it looks, smells, and tastes normal. When in doubt, throw it out. For more information, visit Keep Food Safe After a Disaster or Emergency.

Use safe water.

Floodwater can contaminate your drinking water. Some contaminants from surface water get into the groundwater and affect private drinking water wells and municipal water systems that use groundwater.

Do not use water you suspect or have been told is contaminated to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula. Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water.

For tips on how to properly disinfect contaminated water, go to Public Health’s Safe Water webpage or give us a call at (360) 416-1500.

For well water:

Wells that have been flooded may be contaminated with pathogenic organisms that can cause disease (bacteria, viruses). To have well water tested, contact one of the labs below:

  • Edge Analytical, Burlington: 360-757-1400
  • Everett Environmental Laboratory, Everett: 425-257-8230
  • Monroe Water Quality Laboratory, Monroe: 360-794-6558
  • Exact Scientific Services, Ferndale: 360-733-1205
  • Lynden Water Treatment Plant, Lynden: 360-255-5470

For septic systems.

For information about what to do with your septic system after a flooding event, go to: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/septic-systems-what-do-after-flood.

Clean up your home safely.

Before you begin to clean, be sure to check in with your insurance company. You may need to document any damage to your property.

Take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones during the cleanup process. For more information, visit Clean Up Safely After a Disaster. Some quick tips?

  • Using personal protective equipment (or “PPE”), like gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask to avoid breathing in fine silts and sands.
  • Be sure to wear long sleeve shirts and pants while cleaning and wash hands frequently with soap and water.

Use generators and other electrical equipment safely.

Talk to your utility company about using electrical equipment, including power generators. Be aware that it is against the law and a violation of electrical codes to connect generators to your home’s electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices. If a generator is online when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard. In addition, the improper connection of a generator to your home’s electrical circuits may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.

All electrical equipment and appliances must be completely dry before returning them to service. Have a certified electrician check these items if there is any question. For more information, see Protect Yourself and Others From Electrical Hazards After a Disaster.

Never use a generator, pressure washer, any gasoline-powered engine, or charcoal grills inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent. Visit Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency for more information.

Dry out your home to prevent mold.

If flood or storm water has entered your home, dry it out as soon as possible to prevent mold. Here’s some helpful guidance:

People with asthma and other lung conditions and/or immune suppression should not enter buildings with indoor water leaks or mold growth that can be seen or smelled. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work.

If you have electricity and an electrician has determined that it’s safe to turn it on, use a “wet-dry” shop vacuum (or the vacuum function of a carpet steam cleaner), an electric-powered water transfer pump, or sump pump to remove standing water. If you are operating equipment in wet areas, be sure to wear rubber boots to avoid electrocution.

If you do not have electricity, or it is not safe to turn it on, you can use a portable generator to power equipment to remove standing water. Note: If you must use a gasoline-powered pump, generator, pressure washer, or any other gasoline-powered tools to clean your home, never operate the gasoline engine inside a home, basement, garage, carport, porch, or other enclosed or partially enclosed structures, or less than 20 feet from any door, window, or vent, even if the windows and doors are open. Such improper use can create dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

If weather permits, open windows and doors of the house to aid in the drying-out process.

Use fans and dehumidifiers to remove excess moisture. Fans should be placed at a window or door to blow the air outwards rather than inwards, so not to spread the mold.

Have your home heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system checked and cleaned by a maintenance or service professional who is experienced in mold cleanup before you turn it on. If the HVAC system was flooded with water, turning on the mold-contaminated HVAC will spread mold throughout the house. Professional cleaning will kill the mold and prevent later mold growth. When the service determines that your system is clean and if it is safe to do so, you can turn it on and use it to help remove excess moisture from your home.

Prevent water outdoors from reentering your home. For example, rainwater from gutters or the roof should drain away from the house; the ground around the house should slope away from the house to keep basements and crawl spaces dry.

Ensure that crawl spaces in basements have proper drainage to limit water seepage. Ventilate to allow the area to dry out.

For more information on mold cleanup, visit Homeowner’s and Renter’s Guide to Mold Cleanup After Disasters.


If you have questions or concerns about re-entering your home, please contact Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500 or email EH@co.skagit.wa.us.


Are you Prepared for a Flood?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On October 4th, the Skagit County Commissioners declared this week (October 11-15, 2021) Flood Awareness Week. Flood Awareness Week offers multiple opportunities for community members to get involved and learn about flood preparedness for themselves and their families.

Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than any other hazard related to thunderstorms. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself, your family, and your home! A great way to learn about floor preparedness is participating in two free webinars being held this week:

Flood Awareness with the Department of Emergency Management
Wednesday, October 13 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Join via zoom here: https://bit.ly/3uqlmdE

NOAA Weather Spotter Training
Thursday, October 14 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Join via Zoom here: https://bit.ly/3uE569d

Not able to attend a training this week? That’s okay! Keep reading for some important steps to reduce the harm caused by flooding.

Stay informed about flooding risks in your area

Photo from the Roger Fox Collection, taken from Burlington Hill looking down into town during the flood of 1921.

Information about flooding in Skagit County, and some helpful flood preparation resources, can be found at www.skagitcounty.net/flood. Skagit also prepares a Flood Awareness Week booklet each year, which you can find that booklet online here.

Skagit County offers a variety of alert tools for residents, as well. You can sign up for CodeRed Alerts, follow @SkagitGov on Twitter, or sign up for news releases to receive key emergency information before, during, and after an event.

For more information on Skagit County flood response, call 360-416-1400 or visit www.skagitcounty.net/flood.

Prepare for Flooding

Sometimes floods develop slowly, and forecasters can anticipate where a flood will happen days or weeks before it occurs. Oftentimes flash floods can occur within minutes and sometimes without any sign of rain. Being prepared can save your life and give you peace of mind.

Create a Communications Plan

It is important to be able to communicate with your family and friends in the event of a disaster. Whether it’s having a specific person identified to contact for status updates or a safe location to meet up with family members, having a plan in place will give you peace of mind if disaster does strike.

Assemble an Emergency Kit

It is good practice to have enough food, water, and medicine on hand to last you at least 3 days in the case of an emergency. Water service may be interrupted or unsafe to drink and food requiring little cooking and no refrigeration may be needed if electric power is interrupted.

You should also have batteries, blankets, flashlights, first aid kit, rubber boots, rubber gloves, and a NOAA Weather Radio or other battery-operated radio easily available.

Prepare Your Home

Burlington Northern Sante Fe Bridge over the Skagit that failed in 1995, stopping rail traffic for a couple of weeks.

1. If you have access to sandbags or other materials, use them to protect your home from flood waters if you have sufficient time to do so. Filling sandbags can take more time than you may think.

2. Have a professional install check-valves in plumbing to prevent flood waters from backing up into the drains of your home. Make sure your sump pump is working and consider having a backup. Make sure your electric circuit breakers, or fuses, are clearly marked for each area of your home.

3. Since standard homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover flooding, ensure coverage by contacting your insurance company or agent to purchase flood insurance. This must be done before there is even a threat of flooding as insurance companies stop issuing policies if there is a threat of flooding. (i.e. an approaching hurricane).

Many flood insurance policies take at least 30 days to go into effect so even if you can buy it as a storm is approaching, it may not protect your home. For more flood insurance facts: https://www.fema.gov/flood-insurance

During a Flood Watch or Warning

  • Listen to your local radio or television station for updates.
  • Evacuate immediately, if told to evacuate. Never drive around barricades. Local responders use them to safely direct traffic out of flooded areas.
  • Prepare your family and pets. You may be evacuated, so pack in advance. Don’t wait until the last moment to gather the essentials, including emergency supplies.
  • Have immunization records handy. Store immunization records in a waterproof container.
  • Fill bathtubs, sinks, gallon jars, and plastic soda bottles so that you will have a supply of clean water. Sanitize sinks/tubs first by cleaning them using a solution of one cup of bleach to five gallons of water. Then rinse and fill with clean water.
  • Bring in outdoor possessions (lawn furniture, grills, trash cans) or tie them down securely.
  • Charge your essential electronics. Make sure your cell phone and portable radios are all charged in case you lose power or need to evacuate. Also make sure you have back-up batteries on hand.
  • If evacuation appears necessary: turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve.
  • Leave areas subject to flooding, like low spots, canyons, washes, etc. (Rememberavoid driving through flooded areas and standing water.)

After Flooding Has Occurred

  • Turn Around, Don’t Drown! Do not walk, swim or drive through flood waters or standing water. Just six inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
  • If you have been evacuated, return to your home only after local authorities have said it is safe to do so.
  • Do not drink flood water, or use it to wash dishes, brush teeth, or wash/prepare food. Drink clean, safe water. Listen to water advisory from local authorities to find out if your water is safe for drinking and bathing. During a water advisory, use only bottled, boiled, or treated water for drinking, cooking, etc.
  • When in doubt, throw it out! Throw away any food and bottled water that comes/may have come into contact with flood water.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Use generators at least 20 feet from any doors, windows, or vents. If you use a pressure washer, be sure to keep the engine outdoors and 20 feet from windows, doors, or vents as well.
Aerial photo of the town of Hamilton in 2003.

The initial damage caused by a flood is not the only risk. Standing flood waters can also spread infectious diseases, bring chemical hazards, and cause injuries. After you return home, if you find that your home was flooded, practice safe cleaning.

For ways to stay safe after flooding, visit: https://www.ready.gov/floods#prepare.

For more information:

https://www.ready.gov/floods
https://www.weather.gov/safety/flood


Septic Tips for National SepticSmart Week

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September 20-24, 2021 is SepticSmart Week—a week during which Skagit County Public Health joins the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Governor Jay Inslee in reminding homeowners and communities about the importance of caring for, and maintaining, their septic systems.

Governor Jay Inslee’s proclamation, declaring SepticSmart Week, underscores the importance of maintaining the approximately 18,000 septic systems in Skagit County. Properly designed, installed, and maintained septic systems can operate for a long time as a mini wastewater treatment plant on your own property! However, poor maintenance and other issues can lead to septic failures, contamination of surface and groundwater, algal blooms in lakes, shellfish closures in marine waters, and other issues.

SepticSmart Week Tips

During SepticSmart Week, the EPA provides homeowners with easy to remember septic maintenance tips and videos. Some tips include:

  • Protect It and Inspect It: Homeowners should have their system inspected. In Skagit County, gravity systems must be inspected every three years; all other systems inspected annually. Pumping is not the same as an inspection. Tanks should be pumped when necessary, typically when 1/3 full of solid material.
  • Think at the Sink: Avoid pouring fats, grease, and solids down the drain. These substances can clog a system’s pipes and drainfield. Utilize MedProject locally to safely dispose of medications by finding a local drop box or requesting a prepaid envelope directly to your door.
  • Don’t Overload the Commode: Only put things in the drain or toilet that belong there. Items like coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, and cat litter can all clog and potentially damage septic systems.
  • Don’t Strain Your Drain: Be water efficient and spread out water use. Fix plumbing leaks and install faucet aerators and water-efficient products. Spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day Too much water use at once can overload a system.
  • Shield Your Field: Divert downspouts away from your septic tank and drainfield to avoid extra water. Remind guests not to park or drive on a system’s drainfield, where the vehicle’s weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.

Failure to maintain a septic system can lead to backups and overflows, which can result in costly repairs. The last thing anyone needs right now is an added headache or expense from a sewage back up. Spend some time learning how to properly operate and maintain your septic system for the long run, so its smooth flushing from here on out!

Homeowner Septic Education Classes

Skagit County Environmental Health offers Septics 101 and Septics 201 (Do-It-Yourself Septic Inspection) classes for free to all Skagit County residents. Classes are available online and can be accessed at any time. To access these classes, go to: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthEnvironmental/septic101.htm.

The Septic 101 class provides homeowners with an overview of the septic system history, function, operation, and maintenance. It is a 40-minute video followed by a 20-question quiz. The Septic 201 class provides homeowners an overview of the What, Why, & How of safely inspecting your septic system and includes instructional videos.

Note: Not all septic systems are eligible for homeowner inspection so please review our homeowner inspection policy first.

Financial Assistance

We know it’s not easy to think about spending extra money right now. Please know that there is financial assistance available for qualifying individuals.

  • If you need a septic system repair or replacement, Skagit County works with nonprofit lender Craft3 to offer affordable financing with the Clean Water Loan. Learn more and apply at www.Craft3.org/CleanWater
  • If you need assistance with the cost of routine inspections:
    • You may qualify for our low-income assistance program. Please contact our department for information at (360) 416-1500.
    • Submit a rebate application to receive up to $200 back on services.

For more information on septic systems and being SepticSmart, visit www.skagitcounty.net/septicwww.epa.gov/septicsmart, or contact Skagit County Environmental Health at (360) 416-1500.


County Launches New Rental Assistance Online Portal for Skagitonians

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Skagit County residents now have a convenient option to get pre-approved for help with rent and utility bills. This week, the County, and its community partners launched a new online portal where renters can complete a simple eligibility survey and get matched with a rental assistance provider, or complete an application for assistance.  

To access the portal, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/renthelp.

The Skagit County Rental Assistance Program provides financial assistance to income-eligible Skagit County renters, and their landlords, who may be struggling to afford rent and utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Skagit County Rental Assistance Program is made possible by an $8.9 million grant provided by the Washington State Department of Commerce and funded by the Treasury Rent Assistance Program (T-RAP). The program is intended to prevent evictions during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis by paying past due and current/future rent and utilities for people needing relief.

“We know that many Skagit County residents have been impacted by COVID-19, and some are having trouble staying current on rent. Help is available, and we are hopeful that the new online portal will make it easier for residents and landlords to connect up with rental assistance providers.”

– George Kosovich, Skagit County Public Health Analyst

Households must meet all four of the following screening criteria to be eligible for rental assistance:

  1. Someone in the household has been unemployed for at least 90 days, or experienced a reduction in income, incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Must be currently experiencing housing instability or risk of housing instability, which may include unpaid rental fees or anticipation of inability to pay future rent.
  3. Household income is at, or below, 80% of Area Median Income.
  4. Household resides in Skagit County.

Residents who complete the online eligibility survey will get matched with one of the following rental assistance providers:

FORWARD Online Application Serving all Skagit County residents
Housing Authority of Skagit County Serving Section 8 Voucher Holders and tenants of Housing Authority-owned Properties
Catholic Community Services (CCS) Farmworker pr Serving members of the Indigenous, Latinx, and Farmworker Community
Volunteers of America Western Washington Serving all Skagit County residents
Northwest Youth Services Serving young adults ages 18-24
Community Action of Skagit County Serving all Skagit County residents
For contact information, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/renthelp

In addition, three organizations will offer outreach and extra assistance to complete the online assistance application:

  • Skagit Legal Aid: Serving residents of Skagit County and households facing eviction for reasons other than past-due rent
  • Community to Community Development (C2C): Serving members of the farmworker and Latinx community
  • Parent to Parent: Serving families where one or more individual has a developmental disability and/or complex healthcare needs

For more information about the Rental Assistance Program, to check eligibility, or to apply for assistance, go to www.skagitcounty.net/renthelp or call (360) 416-1500.


What does the new Housing Stability ‘Bridge’ Emergency Order mean for Skagitonians?

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On June 29, 2021 Gov. Jay Inslee issued a housing stability ‘bridge’ emergency order, Proclamation 21-09, intended to ‘bridge’ the gap between the eviction moratorium and the new protections and programs enacted by the State Legislature. 

What does this means for renters and landlords?

Until there is an operational Eviction Resolution Program in Skagit County, eviction for non-payment of past due rent is not permitted. However, by August 1st, tenants must either begin paying full rent, negotiate a plan with their landlord to catch up on past due rent or apply for funds with a local rental assistance program. Public Health strongly encourages tenants to stay in their homes and housing providers not to proceed with evictions for tenants who owe rent. Tenants who leave will not be eligible for rental assistance and may have difficulty finding a new home. Landlords who evict tenants cannot then collect assistance for the back rent owed by that tenant.

What is the Eviction Resolution Program and when will it be available in Skagit County?

The Eviction Resolution Program engages both landlords, tenants, and their legal counsel to resolve any issues including but not limited to back rent issues that may cause an eviction once the moratorium has expired.

The goal of the program is to ensure landlords and tenants are connected to rent assistance, legal counsel and have an opportunity at mediation or meet and confer to resolve the housing conflicts prior to filing an unlawful detainer which may result in an eviction.

In Skagit County, there is not currently an operational Eviction Resolution Program and we will provide updates as more information becomes available.  In the interim, landlords and tenants are encouraged to reach out to and work with their local dispute resolution center (DRC) 425-789-7500 (intake) and skagitdrc@voaww.org.

Where can Skagitonians go for assistance if behind on rent?

The Skagit County Rental Assistance Program is currently active and accepting applications for assistance. Funding is available for renters or landlords who have lost income due to COVID-19 and are struggling to pay or collect rent. The program can cover rent up to 150% of Fair market value for past due rent incurred after March 13, 2020, as well as future rent. These funds can also assist with past-due utilities and other housing costs directly or indirectly due to COVID-19.

A list of local rental assistance provider is available here: English | Spanish

Renters and landlords who do not qualify for assistance will be referred to the Volunteers of America Landlord-Tenant Program. ltinfo@voaww.org 425-339-1335 ext. 4.

What should landlords do if they have tenants that are behind on rent?

Property owners can reach out to a rental assistance provider on behalf of their tenants.  A list of local rental assistance providers is available here: English | Spanish

Additional Resources:


What Is Binge Drinking, Anyway?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

New year’s resolutions aren’t for everyone. Making big plans and setting high expectations for the months to come can seem too burdensome for some—and that’s totally fine! The beginning of a new year does present a good opportunity to reflect on the prior year, though. An opportunity to think about the things that we’d like to work on or change.

This past year was definitely a doozy, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some of our routines were uprooted or thrown out the window entirely. While, before last March, it might not have been acceptable to take a meeting in sweats, or to shower in the middle of the workday, we’ve adapted and made concessions out of pure necessity.

Perhaps, for some, one of these concessions has been around drinking habits. While it was once acceptable to have an occasional glass of wine over dinner or a few cocktails on the weekend, now a quaran-tini (or two) each night has become the standard.

While it’s perfectly fine to have a drink here and there, it is important to monitor one’s drinking habits. When does drinking become “too much,” and when do rates of consumption go from healthy to possibly dangerous?

Isolation, the disruption of routine, and an inability to use pre-COVID coping mechanisms can cause one to feel especially vulnerable during times of crisis. Partnered with other stressors like economic uncertainty or unemployment, an individual may be at increased risk of developing a reliance on alcohol or other substances in order to cope.

What is binge drinking?

Not everyone who drinks—even regularly—engages in binge drinking. Even still, the definition of “binge drinking” may surprise you.

Moderate drinking, for men, is drinking no more than 15 drinks per week and no binge drinking. For women, the limit is seven drinks per week, with no binge drinking.

Binge drinking, however, is defined as drinking five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men, and four or more drinks in that same two-hour period for women.

Note: Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men, meaning they have higher concentrations of it in their blood when they drink the same amount.

The CDC states that one in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge, with the highest percentage of binge drinking happening amongst 25-34 year olds. A person who binge drinks may or may not have an alcohol use disorder.

Recent Findings

A recent study published in the American Journal of Alcohol & Drugs Abuse reported that “thirty-four percent [of those studied] reported binge drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.” It was also found that more binge drinkers increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic (60%) than non-binge drinkers (28%). And for every one-week increase in time spent at home during the pandemic, there were greater odds of binge drinking.

Also of note was that binge drinkers with a previous diagnosis of depression and current depression symptoms had greater odds of increased alcohol consumption compared to those reporting no depression.

Why can it be dangerous?

Binge drinking is associated with many short- and long-term health problems. Short-term side effects include:

  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Hangover
  • Shakiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Poor decision-making
  • Memory loss

From the American Addiction Centers, some long-term effects of repeated binge drinking include: alcoholism, brain damage, liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and even sexual dysfunction.

Tips for a healthier relationship with alcohol

Keep track. Whether you can keep track in your mind, or you need something in writing to help you monitor throughout the week, it may be a good idea to have a system in place. Did you have a few drinks over the weekend? Maybe take a break for a few days this week. Even taking a couple days off from alcohol can help your physical (and even mental) wellbeing!

Count and measure. Being your own bartender at home can surely be cost efficient, but it can also pose a challenge for proper measuring! According to NIAAA, a standard alcoholic drink is 12 ounces of regular beer (usually about 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (typically about 12% alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol). Keep these measurements in mind when pouring (and counting) drinks.

Set goals. Along these same lines, try setting some goals for yourself over the coming weeks. Maybe it isn’t realistic right now to cut out alcohol together. How about cutting out a drink here and there to start, and work your way into a healthier routine? Don’t get discouraged if you lapse or if you have to start over. Changing behaviors can be extremely difficult—but also entirely doable! Maybe set a goal with a friend or loved one so that you can work toward a common goal together, while also keeping one another accountable.

Find alternatives. If having a drink at 5 o’clock has become the norm recently, try replacing this habit with something else. Try taking a walk during this time, or taking a hot bath. If having a drink makes you feel calm, find something that provides a similar sensation. If you feel like a drink is a nice way to treat yourself after a long day, find something else that feels like a little reward. Just be sure not to replace one unhealthy habit with another!

Avoid “triggers.” A trigger can be anything that causes you to want to drink. This could be something stressful like watching the nightly news or scrolling social media. However, it can be something pleasurable like cooking a meal or video-chatting with a friend. It is important to recognize what your triggers are in order to plan for and work through it.

Remember non-alcoholic drinks. For some people, just having alcohol in the house can pose a difficulty in regulating consumption. If this is the case, move the alcohol out of the refrigerator, or avoid having it in the home altogether. Try having something in the fridge that you can go to instead when you’re craving a drink. Carbonated water (which comes in a variety of flavors) can be a nice go-to, or even diet soda.

Need more help?

Need a little extra help? That’s okay! The Washington Recovery Helpline is a great resource available to all Washingtonians who may be struggling with substance use. Call 1-866-789-1511 to speak with a specialist (available 24/7/365). You can also text this same number during Monday-Friday between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for treatment options, resources, and referrals.

You can also access www.skagithelps.org for a list of helpful resources.


Preventing Poisoning During COVID-19

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Earlier this month, the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) released its data “snapshot” for 2020. This is something that WAPC puts out annually in order to educate the public about poisoning trends at the state level. These trends are based on the types of calls that WPAC’s hotline receives throughout the year, compared to years prior.

This year has been one for the books in so many ways, and the new data snapshot tells an interesting story. I had the opportunity to talk with one of WPAC’s staff, and I’d like to share what I learned.

But first: What is the Washington Poison Center (WAPC)?

The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous, or toxic substances. Each year, its specialists answer more than 63,000 calls from Washingtonians related to poisoning and toxic exposures. All calls are free, confidential, and help is available 24/7/365.

Major Takeaways

COVID-19 has increased our risks of accidental poisoning. Period. So what is the reason for this increase? WAPC staff believe that it is due to several factors, including:

  • We are home more due to social distancing and other safety guidance
  • We may have new daily routines this year that are out of the ordinary
  • More products in the home (perhaps due to stockpiling) may cause increased access
  • More stress can cause people to be less focused
  • Rumors and misinformation can lead to dangerous choices

Calls to the Center have increased in 2020, and staff have seen spikes in calls regarding substances common to COVID prevention (hand sanitizer and household cleaners). They have also seen spikes in calls for vulnerable demographics like adolescents and adults over 60.

This data is concerning, and parallels poison trends across the U.S.

Cleaners & Sanitizers

It isn’t unusual for WAPC to receive calls about household cleaners; however, this year has definitely seen a serious uptick. Most calls have been in regards to accidental poisonings, or poisonings due to misuse (mixing products, using in low ventilated areas, etc).

The vast majority of hand sanitizer exposures have been in children ages 0-12, most likely due to increased access to the products in the home. The high alcohol content in these products can be very dangerous for young children, so it is extremely important to supervise kids when using hand sanitizer and to make sure that bottles are always out of reach.

Nicotine

An interesting find this year has been the decrease in nicotine exposure calls. In 2020, nicotine exposure in children ages 0-5 actually decreased—a trend that even WAPC staff were a bit surprised about. Perhaps the decrease is due to parents being home more? Or perhaps the new Tobacco 21 law has decreased access to these products? While it is difficult to pinpoint direct correlations, it is certainly nice to see this type of data!

That said, it is still very important to keep nicotine products stored safely and away from children. The vast majority of calls for 0-5 year old’s were for raw tobacco, with vape products in second. WAPC staff explained that raw tobacco can be dangerous, but vape liquid—if ingested—can be fatal. Always, always, keep these products away from children, as flavored liquids can be especially enticing to little kids.

Cannabis

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

Trends for THC exposure are less rosy. All age groups saw an increase in THC exposures this year, with a sizeable increase among children 0-5. Among this group, exposures were almost 100% due to unintentional use (getting a hold of an edible, plant-based product, or concentrate). Safe and secure storage of these products is crucial to keeping kids safe.

Medications

This is another area that has historically been a concern for WAPC, however COVID has exacerbated the problem. Stress, distractions, and new routines can lead to user error and poor judgement. WAPC staff encourage people to use medication lists, trackers, and reminders in order to decrease risk of double-dosing or mixing meds.

It is also encouraged that people secure medications in the home. This simple step can decrease the likelihood of accidental poisonings in young children, or misuse among adolescents.

Adolescent Self-harm

By far, this data tells the most worrisome story. Historically, data has shown an increase in youth self-harm/suicidal intent since 2014, and this trend continues. COVID-19 related isolation and stress may increase these risks—something that mental health experts have been concerned about for months.

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

It is encouraging, however, to see this data and to realize just how amazing our kids are. Despite all the ups and downs of 2020, our youth are showing resilience in magnitudes. We must not forget that we can all make a positive difference everyday in the lives of our young people.

Two steps that each of us can take today are: 1) locking up medications (even over-the-counter meds like Tylenol and Advil); and 2) talking to our children about substance use. Don’t know where to start with this? Visit Start Talking Now for some ideas.

What to expect when you call

It doesn’t need to be an emergency to call the Washington Poison Center—you can call to get advice or directions if you are concerned or confused about poison-related issues.

You will speak with an expert (nurse, pharmacist, or poison information provider), and there are always Board Certified Medical Toxicologists on-call if necessary. You are not required to give your name, however providing your age and gender can be extremely helpful in order to gauge risk. What was taken, when, and how much are other vital details to provide to the staff.

These calls are always confidential. You do not need to be worried about law enforcement or CPS getting involved. WAPC is concerned about your safety and about providing care.

Staff are trained to provide direction on what to do, what to watch for, and most of the time this can all happen with the caller at home. If/when it is decided that the caller needs medical intervention, staff can advise the caller to go to the emergency room, or WAPC can actually contact EMS on the caller’s behalf.

Finally, WAPC staff will follow-up with you—just to make sure that everything is alright!

It is important to be vigilant when it comes to poisoning prevention—now more than ever. With that said, I feel comforted in knowing that there are trained professionals available to answer my questions. If you don’t have the Washington Poison Center’s phone number somewhere in your home, I encourage you to jot it down! 1-800-222-1222

You never know when you might need it!

To view the Washington Poison Center’s full data report, visit: www.wapc.org/programs/covid-19-resources-information/covid-19-data/.


Let’s Talk About It…Domestic Violence During COVID-19

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest blog post by staff at Skagit DVSAS

This past month of October, we at Skagit Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (Skagit DVSAS) participated in Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On Purple Thursday, October 15th, we asked the community to join us in wearing purple in support of survivors. Using social media, we were able to come together to raise awareness for domestic violence in our community. Skagit community members joined us in showing support by sharing pictures of themselves wearing purple to our Facebook page, helping to raise awareness and show survivors that Skagit cares.

October may be over, but we know that domestic violence is not. We also know that the community still cares, now, and every month of the year! At Skagit DVSAS, we believe that we all have the power to end abuse through our individual and collective efforts. Abuse can be a difficult and scary topic for a lot of us, and it is okay not to know where to start.

Let’s Talk

The first thing we can all do to prevent and put an end to abuse in our community is to start talking about it! Talking about domestic violence raises awareness, and increases understanding for those going through it. There are many myths and stigmas that surround interpersonal violence and make survivors feel that they are not believed or valid. We can challenge those stigmas by letting people know that abuse is a very real thing in many people’s lives, and that it is never the survivors’ fault. Talking about domestic violence can also look like sharing community resources with others, such as our Skagit DVSAS 24-hour crisis hotline for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Red Flags

Another way to take action against domestic violence in our daily lives is to learn about red flags that may indicate someone is experiencing violence in their life. When we know what signs to look for, we are better able to support our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Red flags can be both physical and behavioral. Someone who is experiencing abuse may have unexplained bruises or other injuries, sudden onset of pain and illness, or chronic pain. They may isolate themselves, or never want to be alone, may experience anxiety, depression, panic, dissociation, anger, hostility, and low self-esteem. They might also be nervous to be around their partner and can be hypervigilant or the opposite.

This is just a short list of some of the signs that someone is experiencing abuse, but the most important red flag to pay attention to is any sudden or unexplained change in behavior. When you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, trust it! Checking in about what is going on lets the person experiencing abuse know that there is someone who cares about them and is concerned for their safety.

If you know someone who has previously experienced abuse or is currently experiencing abuse, the most powerful way you can support them is to believe their story, validate their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions. Domestic violence is the abuse of power in a relationship that takes control away from the survivor. When we allow them to make their own choices, we can help to give that power back.

Show Support

Finally, you do not have to be an expert in domestic violence to support survivors! You only need to be a caring friend, neighbor, or community member. If the person you are supporting would like to talk to someone who is an expert, we at Skagit DVSAS are always available. DVSAS can provide emotional support, crisis intervention, safety planning, support groups, legal and medical advocacy, and emergency shelter. We have Spanish speaking advocates and interpretive services, as well as community prevention education services available for schools and community groups. DVSAS serves everyone regardless of age, sex, identity, and immigration status, and all of our services are free and confidential. Please do not hesitate to reach out and to share us as a resource. We are still open and serving the community during the COVID-19 pandemic and are providing all of our services over the phone. Our professionals at DVSAS can be reached at (360) 336-9591 for questions, support, and for arranging community education events online.

We believe in the power of knowledge, resources, and community action to put an end to domestic violence in our community.


Skagit County COVID-19 Mortgage Relief Grant Program

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Have you missed your mortgage payment because your income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19? You may be eligible for assistance.

Funding is available to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments because their income has fallen due to COVID-19. This one-time grant is for eligible Skagit County residents to pay up $6,000 of past-due or currently due mortgage payments per household as a result of a temporary job loss, reduction in work hours or other income hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications are available online and will be accepted until November 23, or until all funds have been spent. Completed applications can be mailed or hand-delivered from 9am-4pm to Skagit County Public Health, 700 S 2nd Street, Mount Vernon, WA 98273.

Eligible Uses of Funds

Direct payments will be made to the mortgage company on the applicant’s behalf. No payments will be made directly to the applicant. Payments may be used for mortgage principal, interest and Private Mortgage Insurance, but not for escrowed items like property taxes or hazard insurance.

How do I know if my income qualifies?

To qualify, your household’s current adjusted gross income (AGI) has to be at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income.  See the table below.

What if my household income is currently over the limit?

Unfortunately, you are ineligible for this assistance if your household income is above the maximum amount. If you can’t pay your mortgage, or can only pay a portion, you should contact your mortgage company immediately.  You should also know that if you have a federally insured or backed mortgage, there is currently a foreclosure moratorium that runs through December 31, 2020. Homeownership counseling and assistance is available to all Washington residents, and you can call the Washington Department of Financial Institutions toll-free number 1-877-RING-DFI (746-4334) for assistance. 

Contact for Skagit Mortgage Assistance Program Questions:

Skagit County Public Health
(360) 416-1500
housing@co.skagit.wa.us