For two years Karly Leib worked for a private agency that recruited foster parents. She reluctantly quit after getting worn down by the state foster system’s relentless struggles. “I thought, ‘How do I ask people to get involved in such a ridiculously broken system?’” she said.

Washington’s troubled foster care program struggles to keep foster parents

Over the course of four years, foster parent Veronica Moody of Kirkland took in babies and children with severe challenges, including drug exposure, extreme tantrums and nightmares, head-banging and third-degree burns. But that wasn’t the really hard part of the job, the part that drove away Moody and her husband Chris from accepting more kids. It was Washington state’s dysfunctional foster care system. “All the problems the state causes, due to lack of resources and lack of training, make our job as foster parents very difficult,” Moody said. “It burns you out.”

The Moodys’ tale is sadly familiar.

Each time a foster child change schools, he loses four to six months of academic progress. Many in Washington, shuffled between hotels and emergency housing options, are missing school altogether.

Foster system sets up kids for academic failure

Washington’s shortage of foster parents to care for abused and neglected kids is so overburdened that kids who are shuffled among hotels and emergency placements often miss school, further compromising their chances to become successful adults.

Kristin Heydel presents a workshop about Human Trafficking.

In Oregon, Gangs Take Over as Sex Trafficking Goes Offline

PORTLAND —This river city along Interstate 5 has long had a reputation as a hotspot for child sex trafficking, even after a 2010 report to Congress made it clear that Seattle and other American cities are just as bad and that sex with children is a burgeoning American pastime. It’s a sad truth many communities have yet to embrace. But consider the numbers:

Police say escort ads for young women are a good barometer of the size of a trafficking market in any town — women billed as young but legal who often turn out to be minors. The Portland metro area, population 2.3 million, saw 377 total listings for escorts in a recent week on the web site Backpage. Seattle, with a metro-area population of 3.5 million, had 523 — roughly the same rate per capita.

‘Prescription for Abuse’ Honored at Best of the West

Last February, Carol Smith’s report, “The Prescription Epidemic” revealed how aggressive marketing and sales of pharmaceuticals drove a culture of overprescription in Washington and created the spectacular run-up in the number of deaths from prescription overdoses.

Today that story—and the documentary of the same name that we co-produced with KCTS—was recognized by Best of the West, a journalism contest for news outlets from Alaska to Texas. Here’s what the judge had to say:

InvestigateWest’s Carol Smith and Stephanie Schendel and KCTS’ Ethan Morris take second for their collaboration in print and video of the prescription-drug epidemic in Washington. The investigation comes after the state’s enactment of a law that limits the doses doctors and others prescribers can give out. It is considered one of the strongest prescription drug laws in the United States.

“InvestigateWest’s report on the prescription drug epidemic in Washington tackles a controversial topic – the unintended consequences of making pain medication available to those in need. Carol Smith and her colleagues revealed not just the personal cost of overdoses but also the hidden influence of drug companies on the guidelines for the use of painkillers. The research, the writing and the multimedia presentation offer readers creative, compelling and unforgettable work,” the judge wrote.

Congratulations also to the staff of The Oregonian, who won top honors in the category for their reporting on the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System.

Interview: Dr. Michael Copass

Dr. Michael Copass, medical director of Medic One
(InvestigateWest/Medic One Foundation)

Dr. Michael Copass, whose famously crusty persona and exacting standards in the emergency room inspired equal parts dread and admiration among generations of medical students, residents, nurses and paramedics-in-training, sat down with InvestigateWest’s Carol Smith to talk about Medic One – the emergency response system he helped pioneer, and how it is responding to the epidemic of overdose deaths in King County.  Over the nearly four decades he was director of Emergency Services for Harborview Medical Center, the region’s Level 1 trauma service, Copass acquired a legendary status for his fierce devotion to patients and his high bar for those under his command. Paul Ramsey, dean of the University of Washington School of Medicine, once referred to him as a “cross between General Patton and Albert Schweitzer.” The Medic One model of emergency response, which began in the late 1960s, is now emulated around the world. Copass, who retired from Harborview in 2008, remains medical director of Medic One.

Smith: I think the lay public confuses Medic One vehicles with ambulances, and we use the terms interchangeably. What kind of equipment is different on a Medic One versus a private ambulance?

Copass: Private ambulances carry comfort equipment – oxygen, suction gear. A Medic One unit basically is an under-stocked ER. (It has) two defibrillators — one on active duty, one on reserve.  It has individuals trained at the 2,800-hour level of education versus individuals who are trained at 120 hours.

Legislature seeks Rx to discourage pharmacy robberies

Bill McNary smooths his white coat and steps out from behind the high counter where he presides over medications dispensed at the Maple Leaf Pharmacy in a quiet residential neighborhood of north Seattle. He scans the few customers who are browsing the aisles full of Ace bandages, aspirin and assorted other sundries for life’s aches and pains.

These days, even the most benign-looking customer could be a deadly threat. Worried about the kinds of robberies McNary, co-workers, and customers have experienced, pharmacists across Washington are seeking changes in state law.

In December, 2009, a young man who McNary said looked “normal enough” strolled into the pharmacy, glanced around, bought a Chapstick, which gave him a view over the counter, and left. When he came back a few hours later, the store was packed with customers waiting for flu shots. He was waving a gun.

The man, Jacob Shook, burst behind the counter and overpowered one pharmacy technician, knocking her to ground.

Technician Geraldine Crews whipped around, phone in hand, as her co-worker flew to the floor. She saw the glint of a gun barrel and hit the ground herself.

“He jerked me up, and slapped me with the gun,” she said. “He got angry. He said, ‘Do you know what Oxy is?’ ” She knew that OxyContin, a powerful pain pill that acts like heroin, sells for upwards of $80 a pill on the street. She also knew that people addicted to it can be desperate.

“Here – take it all and go,” she remembers telling him. She was terrified that if she didn’t, he’d turn the gun on customers.

“This place was full of people — there was a five- or six-year-old little boy with his parents here,” she said. “I’m sure it gave that little boy nightmares.”