Two safe injection sites for drug users will open in Washington state. The sites, to be located in the Seattle area, will be the first of their kind in the United States.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the idea for the safe injection sites on Friday as part of an effort to slow the pace of opioid overdose deaths occurring in the region. The locations will be complete with a supply of clean needles, medical staff, and the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. They will also help people struggling with drug addiction find treatment services.
“The crisis is growing beyond anything we have seen before,” Murray said, as cited by the Seattle Times. “We can do something about that.”
The safe injection sites were part of a series of recommendations by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force that met last year to discuss solutions to the opioid epidemic in the Seattle area. The committee suggested the sites be placed in targeted areas where the highest number of heroin overdoses has been recorded. The task force believed the locations would be a better and safer alternative than restrooms, back alleys, or homeless shelters where users generally shoot up.
“These sites save lives and that is our goal in Seattle/King County,” said Murray, as reported by the Washington Post.
So far, no specific locations have been determined for the safe injection sites and government officials expect backlash from the local community when the locations are announced. However, both Murray and Constantine said they are prepared for any criticism that comes with the selection of the sites.
“The people in my district, Democrat or Republican, would come unglued if we put a safe injection site in Federal Way,” said State Senator Mark Miloscia, as quoted by the Washington Post. “Saving lives is about getting people off heroin and not tolerating it.”
Funding for the safe injection sites could also be a major hurdle to overcome as such a facility would be illegal under federal law. Any location where drugs are used would be a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.
Despite potential funding issues, Jeff Duchin, health officer for Seattle and King County, wants at least one of the safe injection sites to open within one year. Duchin said a healthcare worker will be on site at all times to supervise drug users and “can save their lives if they overdose.” The staff will be trained to spot signs of an overdose and administer naloxone.
Once open, the safe injection sites will be monitored and evaluated for three years to determine if overdose deaths are actually being prevented. Data will also be collected to determine if the sites increase the number of addicts getting treatment.
While there still is no concrete evidence the safe injection sites will work, King County Sheriff John Urquhart thinks they are a good idea. He is curious about the idea and promises not to arrest or harass anyone entering or exiting the locations. However, he did warn that the federal government might show up and detain anyone in possession of illegal drugs.
Opponents of the Seattle safe injection sites contend they promote illegal drug use, while advocates say they help drug addicts find needed treatment. Supporters point to similar sites that operated in the 1980s and 1990s that provided clean needles to drug addicts in an effort to halt the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.
In 2015, nearly 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recent statistics indicate that more people are killed every year by opioids than car accidents.
Safe injection sites are common in some European cities, and now the idea is catching on in the U.S. Besides Seattle, other U.S. cities, including Boston and New York City, are considering their own locations.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]