Seattle officials approved safe-injection sites for heroin and other illegal drugs. It is the nation’s first such site and comes as a response to an addiction epidemic that claims thousands of lives each year. At the sites, addicts can obtain clean needles, medical supervision and access to drugs that can reverse the effects of overdose such as Naloxone. Other cities such as Boston, New York City, and Ithaca, NY have also taken suit. European cities have long since used the idea of safe injection sites.
The city of Seattle has over 600,000 people and is the largest city in Washington and the Pacific Northwest region. In 2015, over 30,000 people died from opioid drug overdoses in 2015. Heroin deaths outnumber gun homicides. In Seattle, nearly 150 people died from heroin overdoses in King County.
Those against the sites say they encourage illegal drug use while supporters believe the sites can keep people alive while helping them towards treatment. The Washington Post reported that safe injection sites are akin to the popular needle exchange in the 1980s and 1990s to stop the spread of HIV and hepatitis C through intravenous drug users. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement that “these sites save lives and that is our goal in Seattle/King County.”
While not technically legal under federal law, according to Kelly Dineen, the Controlled Substances Act says the it is illegal to operate facilities in which illegal drugs are used. Dineen is a Health Law professor at Saint Louis University School of Law, according to The Washington Post. Besides heroin, opioids including fentanyl can kill a person within minutes before help can arrive on the scene. Those wanting to curb opioid overdoses say that safe injection sites are part of the plan, according to Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program chief medical officer Jessie Gaeta.
The King County Board of Health in Seattle voted to open a pair of sites, one within the city and one in the King County. Jeff Duchin, the Seattle and King County health officer, said that the sites should be open within a year. He went on to say that the drug overdoses were a “public health emergency” and hoped to stop them. When people come into the sites, not only will they be given a clean needles but a chance to attend treatment. With supervision on hand, addicts can receive help if they happen to overdose. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Thea Oliphant-Wells, social worker, and recovering addict for 11 years said that for he, what worked was to have people working for harm-reduction engaging her before she was ready to change her drug-abuse behavior. She promised that when given the opportunity to get better, most drug addicts will accept the help.
By Cheryl Werber