Seattle Officials Move to Open First-Ever Safe Consumption Sites for Drug Users in the US

By Victoria Kim 01/31/17

The sites will also function as a clinic, where drug users can be tested for HIV and hepatitis, and access treatment for addiction.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced the safe consumption sites this past Friday. Photo via YouTube

Seattle and King County are working on establishing not one, but two, safe injection sites where people can use drugs—including heroin—in a medically supervised environment.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced last Friday (Jan. 27) that the county’s public health authority is now working to implement two safe consumption sites—one in Seattle and one elsewhere in King County, outside of the city. 

Last year, the county's Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force presented a list of recommendations for how to best address the region’s heroin and prescription opioid problem. Like so many other American cities, Seattle is grappling with record high overdoses and rising homelessness.

“Because we need an aggressive, comprehensive approach to this crisis, I strongly support implementing the recommendations of the Task Force,” said Murray in a statement, “including expanding treatment options such as greater access to buprenorphine, increasing the life-saving use of naloxone” and creating the two safe consumption sites (also known as supervised injection facilities).

In 2015, 132 people died of heroin overdose in King County, according to the Seattle Times. That number rises to 209 when prescription opioids (OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin) are taken into account. “The crisis is growing beyond anything we have seen before,” said Murray. “We can do something about that.”

The goal of the safe consumption sites is harm reduction: to get drug users and dirty needles off the streets, and stop the sharing of dirty needles and thus the spread of HIV and hepatitis. And—not to mention—death. 

The sites are to be staffed by nurses who will monitor the drug use and, if someone overdoses, they’ll be equipped with the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The sites will also function as a clinic, where drug users can be tested for HIV and hepatitis, and access treatment for addiction.

Medically supervised drug use has been successful in reducing fatal overdoses at Insite, the safe consumption site in Vancouver, Canada that’s been operating since 2003. Since that time, the facility has received nearly 3.5 million visits and nurses have intervened in nearly 5,000 overdoses—resulting in zero deaths at the site.

“My visit to Insite, Vancouver, Canada’s safe consumption site, made clear these sites save lives and that is our goal in Seattle/King County," said Murray in his statement. “Keeping people alive gives them the opportunity to get treatment and begin their path to recovery." 

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr