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Safe Consumption Sites: Seattle’s Solution To The Heroin Epidemic

The authorities in the Seattle Metropolitan area are thinking about establishing a location where addicts can use drugs without the threat of legal consequences such as arrest. The task force established to combat the heroin epidemic in this area believes that the best way to bring the situation under control is to create safe consumption facilities. These are sites that would not only provide shelter but a safe supply of needles and syringes, the addicts in question receiving permission to indulge in their habits under trained supervision.

According to a health officer for public health in Seattle, Doctor Jeffrey Duchin, the sites wouldn’t supply drugs. Rather, the facilities would seek to serve a marginalized portion of the population, taking them off the streets and placing them in a setting where they might have the opportunity to seek medical care and addiction treatment. The facilities would equally seek to reduce risks of infections like hepatitis. The public would also appreciate a reduction in hazards resulting from discarded needles.

Ed Murray, the Seattle Mayor, and Dow Constantine, the executive of King County refused to comment on the concept. The pair created the task force whose final report they will analyze once it is delivered in Mid-September. Deaths in King County due to heroin overdose have only continued to skyrocket in the past few years, so much so that experts have dubbed heroin addiction and overdose a national crisis comparable to the H.I.V crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.

Seattle is hardly novel in its recommendations. Policy makers in places like California and New York have been contemplating the idea of safe consumption facilities for some time now. And according to Patricia Sully, a lawyer and member of the Seattle Task Force, these facilities are less of a sudden alteration in the government’s approach to heroin addiction and more like the natural next step for any city in the United States dealing with addiction. Considering the fact that the city adopted a clean Syringe exchange program decades ago, it only makes sense to progress to the creation of safe consumption sites at this point.

For Sully, there is little point in giving addicts clean needles only to send them out into dirty alleys. And it isn’t like the idea of safe consumption sites is completely alien. A safe injection site was opened in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2003 to combat the rising drug epidemic in the city. The Netherlands and Australia have also experimented with similar concepts over the years. The goal is to provide a safe and more effective alternative to the punitive policies of the war on drugs.

As Liz Evans (executive director of the nonprofit organization that operated the safe injection site in Vancouver) pointed out, merely being hard on people isn’t going to force them to get their lives together and seek treatment. A lot of the people that hit rock bottom do not pick themselves up by the bootstraps. They simply die.

Doctor Duchin was quick to deny claims that safe consumption sites would encourage drug users, saying that there was no evidence that the presence of safe injection facilities led to increased drug use in places like Canada. Doctor Duchin also admitted that the idea was not a magic bullet, merely a means of stemming the tide of deaths resulting from heroin overdoses.

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