Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Safe Drug Consumption Sites Could Open on Capitol Hill

    Taking a new approach to combating King County’s heroin epidemic and the use of other illicit drugs, city officials are considering the possibility of opening up supervised consumption sites, also known as safe consumption sites. These facilities would create a safe area for drug users to use their drug while also providing them with services like counseling and addiction treatment.

    The word safe has multiple meanings in regards to these sites. For one, drug users can use their drugs without fear of arrest, making the user safe from legal repercussions. These facilities would also promote the wellbeing of the users as they would provide them with a clean environment and equipment to inject or smoke drugs, stopping needle-sharing and thus minimizing the spread of diseases such a HIV and Hepatitis C. In the event of an overdose or injury, these sites would provide medical supervision and care.

    These sites are one of the solutions The Task Force on Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction, created by Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine on March 1, is exploring to decrease the rising number of deaths from heroin overdose. According to a study by the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, there were 156 deaths related to heroin in 2014.

    “These sites support a philosophy of harm reduction that could save lives,” said freshman sociology major Connor Crinion.

    Local advocacy groups, like The Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-WA), have voiced their support for these sites.

    “We have really taken on a strong public education role in this matter as we know that we don’t have any supervised consumption spaces in the United States, and people have a lot of understandable questions about them,” said Patricia Sully, a member of VOCAL-WA and an attorney who works with the Public Defender’s Association’s racial equity project.

    The group recently hosted several forums with Liz Evans, the founder of the safe injection site in Vancouver B.C., Insite, which has been successful in the city.

    Insite was created after Vancouver declared a public health crisis in 1997 because of the overwhelming number of drug related deaths in previous years and a high rate of HIV. The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) reports that in 1993 the city alone had 200 deaths from the use of illegal drugs and that drug overdose was the leading cause of death among males and females ages 15-45 in British Columbia.

    Opened in 2003, Insite has been the focus of numerous studies which have shown not only the impact the site has on users, but also on the community. A CMAJ study from 2008 found that Insite not only improved the health of drug users by decreasing needle sharing, but also benefited the surrounding neighborhood of Downtown Eastside with a decrease of the number of vehicle break-ins and theft along with a decrease of injection related litter in public places.

    Other studies of Insite have also found economic benefits. A 2010 cost-benefit analysis from the International Journal of Drug Policy found that Insite prevents 35 cases of HIV and three deaths each year, providing a public benefit of six million dollars saved yearly.

    While Insite provides a successful model for a possible facility in Seattle, Sully would like to see the creation of a site that accommodates all drug users.

    “We would want to see something that is broader than Insite and does include all drug users whether they are injecting their drugs or smoking their drugs,” Sully said.

    The Capitol Hill Community Council has signaled that they are on board with a safe injection site opening on Capitol Hill, making it a possibility that a site could open near Seattle U. The prospect of a site close to campus has elicited strong opinions from students.

    Freshman international relations major Rachael Hill thinks that safe injections sites would be beneficial to users as they would offer access to treatment programs.

    “I think these sites have the potential to help people turn their lives around and minimize overdoses,” Hill said. “They target the actual problem of addiction rather than the person by helping people get off the drug rather than incriminating them and ruining their entire lives when they can be helped.”

    Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill has been the site of numerous heroin overdoses and several overdose deaths in previous years. To prevent such incidents, Seattle Police Department announced on March 15 the beginning of a six month trial period in which bike officers will carry nasal naloxone, the antidote to heroin overdoses.

    Hill thought Capitol Hill would be an ideal location for a site given its proximity to downtown and the opening of the new light-rail station.

    “Having a site in Capitol Hill would allow easy access from other parts of Seattle.” Hill said.

    Where, when, and if a safe consumption site will be opened in Seattle is still uncertain, but the Task Force hopes to find ways to expand treatment and confront Seattle’s heroin and opiate epidemic.

    Callie may be reached at [email protected]

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