Saturday, June 18, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle Music Scene's Latest Death Unlikely To Affect Heroin Fight

Seattle police say they will not step up enforcement efforts against heroin, despite another death apparently linked to the drug in the city's rock-music scene.

Kristen Pfaff, the 27-year-old bass player for the band Hole, was found dead Thursday morning in a bathtub in a Capitol Hill apartment. A syringe and apparent drug paraphernalia were found in a cosmetic bag next to the tub. She had been hospitalized in the past for heroin addiction.

An autopsy yesterday failed to establish a cause of death, and lab and toxicology tests were ordered.

Pfaff's death followed that of Kurt Cobain, lead singer for Nirvana, who committed suicide in early April. A heroin "shooting kit" was found next to his body in the Lake Washington home where he lived with his wife, Courtney Love. Love is Hole's lead singer.

A growing number of heroin-related casualties has occurred among rock musicians in Seattle in recent years. Stefanie Sargent, guitarist for 7 Year Bitch, died of a heroin overdose in 1992. Andrew Wood, lead singer for Mother Love Bone, overdosed in 1990.

The circumstances of Pfaff's death bring renewed speculation about the availability of heroin in Seattle, but police say they are not seeing an increase in the drug.

"I don't think heroin is any more accessible in Seattle than any other city," said Capt. Dan Bryant of the Seattle Police Department's narcotics section. "Heroin is not a Seattle problem; it's a national problem."

Bryant said Pfaff's case is not being investigated by the narcotics division because it doesn't review drug overdoses, which is how Seattle police have categorized the case.

Most investigations focus on known drug dealers, he said, although police will not try to determine who sold Pfaff the heroin, if in fact she bought it in Seattle. Pfaff had been traveling in Europe for five weeks and returned to Seattle last weekend.

"Unless we had someone who knew her and was willing to testify and work with us, we really have no where to go," he said, noting the difficulty in developing drug cases.

"We won't treat this case differently than any other case just because it's someone with notoriety," Bryant added.

"We did attempt to locate the source of drugs in the Cobain case but were unable to come up with any meaningful evidence. That may well be true in this case, too."

Cobain is believed to have purchased heroin from dealers in Capitol Hill apartment buildings not far from the apartment where Pfaff died.

Bryant acknowledged that Capitol Hill is a major source of heroin in Seattle, but police do not plan to increase enforcement there.

"If we doubled or tripled our enforcement efforts, it's not going to make heroin unavailable," he said. "It will only be unavailable when the dealers find no profit in it."

Some health officials agree, saying law enforcement may have reached its "practical limit" in combating drugs, said Steve Freng, systems chief for the King County Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

"The need is more in treatment and services," he said.

"In general, we're only able to meet 10 to 25 percent of the need. There are significant waiting lists for treatment."

At Harborview Medical Center last year, from January to June, 410 people were treated for heroin overdoses. In the first half of the previous year, 191 people were treated.

The King County medical examiner's office said 93 people died from heroin last year, compared with 59 in 1992.

As the heroin death toll rises, so does community concern, particularly in Seattle's music scene.

Kim Warnick, a singer and bass player for the Seattle band Fastbacks, said the city is being painted as a heroin mecca for musicians even though "some bands are horrified by the drug and don't use it."

"We're so tired of the reputation," she said. Still, Warnick conceded the drug is prevalent and "a problem."

"I think it's popular right now," she said. "I don't think it's as scary as it used to be. When I was growing up, just the word `heroin' scared people. Now it's gotten so casual, like people using pot."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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