Efforts to Battle Growing Opioid Epidemic Continue in King County

Throughout the greater Seattle area, the controversial proposal to create safe drug sites is picking up momentum.

These safe drug sites would provide individuals who are abusing substances with a safe place to engage in the use of their drugs of choice. The idea behind these proposed sites is to give individuals who are addicted to drugs a place where they can use without encountering many of the hazards that often occur when a person is engaging in drug abuse.

Casey Jaywork, writing for Seattle Weekly, posted an article in November of 2015 discussing how Seattle was laying the groundwork to be the first city in the United States to offer heroin users a place where they can inject the substance under medical supervision. The main goal of these sites is to provide education on drugs and addiction to users, while also providing them with safe needles and supervision by medical personnel in case of an overdose.

There are many arguments both for and against the development of safe drug sites in the U.S. Yet, as Marcia Brinck for the Medical Literature Society at UCLA pointed out in a May 10, 2016 article, these types of safe drug sites are already in existence in a number of developed countries, including Switzerland (where the concept first began), Norway, Spain, Germany, Australia, and Canada, among others. Also, according to Brinck, “these facilities have had extremely positive impacts on addicts as well as the communities in which they are often found.”

Brinck offered the following as examples of such benefits:

  • Individuals are provided with clean, safe needles.
  • Individuals receive basic drug information and education while at the sites.
  • Medical supervision is provided as drugs are being injected.
  • Treatment referrals are supplied to those individuals who have the desire to put an end to their drug use.

Possibly the most significant benefit of the use of these sites is that they limit the risk of infections and death by overdose.  When an individual does suffer an overdose at a safe drug site, medical personnel are present to intervene.

Those who are in favor of establishing safe drug sites in Seattle, its surrounding communities, and throughout the country as a whole, point out that, currently, addiction is viewed as a crime as opposed to being viewed as a medical concern. The thought is that if addiction can be seen as a medical condition, individuals are more likely to receive the treatment that they need instead of attempting to hide their addictions for fear of being arrested and placed in prison.

With the heroin epidemic continuing to plague Washington, a committee recommended the creation of safe drug sites in King County. These sites would be available to residents of Tukwila and its surrounding communities. Vernal Coleman, staff reporter for The Seattle Timesreported in September of this year that this task force “called for putting one site in Seattle, and another outside the city in an area where a high number of heroin overdoses have been recorded.”

As Seattle’s mayor and county executives come together to determine whether or not the greater Seattle area will move forward with setting up trial safe drug sites, medical activists made their opinions known with a City Hall protest on December 2, 2016. According to Casey Jaywork, nurses, doctors, and other medical activists staged a “die in,” which is a type of theatrical protest, on the lobby floor of Seattle City Hall. “About 30 members of the new group Health Care Workers for Supervised Consumption Spaces imitated the corpses that will be created if safe drug sites aren’t established,” Jaywork wrote.

Whether one is for or against the development of safe drug sites, what cannot be disputed is the necessity that exists for individuals to have access to treatment in order to overcome their addictions. By reducing the stigma attached to addiction in general, it is hoped that individuals will not be fearful of seeking out treatment and, as a result, more people will get the care that they need. Proponents of safe drug sites may argue that setting up these sites can play a role in reducing that stigma.

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