Seattle Officials Endorse First Safe Heroin Injection Site in US

By McCarton Ackerman 08/25/16

The endorsement comes at a time when Seattle is experiencing its highest rates of overdoses in 20 years and a 19% increase in homelessness since 2015.

Seattle Officials Endorse First Safe Heroin Injection Site in US

Seattle may open America's first safe heroin injection site. RT America reported this week that the city's Heroin Task Force, formed by Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine, endorsed the plan to open a homeless shelter that would offer a safe place to inject heroin.

The proposal comes at a time when Seattle is dealing with a record-breaking overdose rate—in 2014, it was the highest in 20 years—and a 19% increase in homelessness since 2015.

The plan has received support from many local officials and drug users themselves, citing the need to get well in a safe environment. “Coming here made it easier to focus on doing what I should be doing to try and stay clean, on what I already should have done a long time ago,” said one woman who has been living in a supportive-housing complex, to the Seattle Times.

Seattle has already adopted a safe-consumption site for alcohol with great success. 1811 Eastlake Avenue is a dormitory that allows its resident chronic alcoholics to drink at the facility, yet also participate in on-site treatment services when they’re ready for it. In addition to reportedly saving taxpayers $4 million annually on housing and emergency services, a 2012 study from the University of Washington showed that residents reduced their drinking by about one-third. Daniel Malone, executive director of Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), said the 1811 model “is totally replicable for any population with addictions.”

Other parts of the world have experienced positive results with safe injection sites. The Canadian city of Vancouver opened its first safe injection site in 2003. A study released in 2013 by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS found that the number of users sharing needles in Vancouver dropped from 40% in 1996 to 1.7% in 2011, while the number of people accessing methadone soared from 12% to 54% during that same period.

But despite this, Canada’s federal government has added red tape in recent years that will make it difficult for another similar site to open.

"We have a federal government that ignores science in favor of ideology, and people are sick and dying as a result," Dr. Thomas Kerr, co-author of the report, said at the time. "When we're dealing with matters such as life and death, I think we're obligated to base our decisions on the best available scientific evidence. I think it's unethical to do otherwise."

If Seattle approves safe injection sites for heroin, it would be the first city in the U.S. to do so. The Heroin Task Force is expected to present formal recommendations regarding the plan in September, including what a model site might look like.


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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.