The city of Seattle has recently been dealing with soaring rates of heroin and other opioid drug overdoses. They are now taking innovative measures to protect their citizens. Instead of focusing on an increased police presence, Seattle is trying to provide better treatment for those with addictions. Mayor Ed Murray and County Executive Dow Constantine just released their plans for dealing with Seattle’s heroin crisis on Friday at a joint press conference.
Seattle Announces Safe Injection Sites to Combat Drug Overdoses
In just the past two months. Over 600 used needles have been found in Seattle’s main urban area. The city is currently undergoing a heroin epidemic, and it is causing many deadly overdoses. In 2015, 241 people died from opioid overdoses.
The overdoses are not just happening among an urban homeless population. Many middle and upper class residents of Seattle are also dealing with opiate addictions. The Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force was therefore created last year to find effective methods for dealing with drug addiction in Seattle and the surrounding King County.
The 32 member team recommended increased access to suboxone to reduce the difficulty of heroin withdrawal, and they suggested that the county also provide naloxone, the drug that reverses an opioid overdose. Most of these suggestions seemed reasonable, but many balked at the idea of creating safe injection sites.
Safe injection sites prevent people from using drugs in alleyways and other isolated areas where they may be subject to violence. Users are provided with clean needles so that they do not risk any blood-borne infections, and there is prompt treatment if overdoses occur.
Mayor Murray announced that he intends to implement all task force recommendations. He states that it will be hard to find a place for safe injection sites that will not disturb Seattle citizens, but he believes the sites are necessary to prevent overdose. However, Republican State Senator Mark Miloscia has already responded by introducing legislation that could potentially ban safe injection sites.
More Areas Turning to New Methods of Reducing Drug Usage
Seattle is the latest city to start thinking outside of the box. In the decades since Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs” began, it has become clear that excessive criminalization does not help to lower rates of drug addiction. Some cities have had more success by providing treatment and aid instead of imprisonment.
For example, Vancouver has successfully been running a safe injection site since 2003. They estimate that roughly 5,000 overdose deaths have been prevented by creating a place where addicts can be monitored while using drugs. In the 14 years of operation, no one has died within the Vancouver clinics.
Other nations like Norway have even more controversial approaches than just monitoring addicts at safe injection sites. In Norway, the government sponsors heroin treatment centers that provide heroin to addicts and assist them in slowly tapering off usage. These clinics have had great success at helping addicts to quit using heroin safely, but it is unlikely that any United States cities will take such drastic and innovative steps anytime soon.
The Next Steps for Seattle Addiction Task Force
Seattle now has these plans in place, but it will be some time before they can actually implement them. Getting funding and legislation may prove very difficult. Director of Public Health, Patty Haynes, is heading an implementation work group to focus on the details of planning the injection sites.
Murray acknowledges that creating safe injection sites may take a lot of time and effort, but Vancouver’s example shows that it may help the heroin crisis.
Photo by Wolfman- K, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.