Update: This story was originally published on Sept. 16, 2016. On Jan. 27, 2017, Seattle officials approved safe-injection sites where locals can receive clean needles and use illicit drugs under medical supervision. The original story on the evidence of safe injection sites is below.
A Seattle Task Force will endorse the development of safe drug-consumption sites, where people with substance use disorders can use illicit drugs, according to The Seattle Times.
In March, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray charged the Task Force on Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction with creating plans to expand treatment access, increase prevention efforts, raise awareness and explore opportunities for reducing deaths from drug overdose.
The task force is expected to officially endorse the recommendation in a September report.
The drug-consumption sites will be designed to be a safe place where homeless individuals suffering from addiction can receive sanitized needles, inject heroin or consume dangerous drugs such as crack cocaine under the supervision of medical professionals.
Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, a health officer for Seattle and King County, is the co-chair of the task force. He told The New York Times that the sites will target “a marginalized population, those who really have nowhere else to go.”
The sites are one part of Murray’s city-wide plan to reduce homelessness. In February, Seattle authorities reported that more than 400 homeless individuals lived in an undeveloped area under Interstate 5 near downtown called the “Jungle.”
By June, the population had been reduced to between 100 and 200 people. The majority of people who remained had substance use disorders and were unable to find treatment, according to multiple reports.
Other states, including California, Maryland and New York, are also considering safe drug-consumption locations, according to The New York Times. Comparable projects exist in other parts of the world including Insite in Vancouver, Canada. Insite was the first North American safe-consumption site, but it provides services only for people who inject drugs.
The Seattle safe-consumption site would be accessible to people who consume drugs by any method, such as smoking crack cocaine or crystal meth. Task force member Patricia Sully, said the move was a logical one for the city.
“Once you have a city that’s already adopted syringe exchange and is talking about these things, it makes sense at some point that people say, ‘Hey, maybe if we’re going to give people syringes, maybe we don’t send them out to a dirty alley to use them,’” Sully told the New York Times.
Giving the homeless a safe place to live and use isn’t a new concept in Seattle. A safe-consumption residence for indigent alcoholics has operated in the city for more than a decade.
In 2005, the Downtown Emergency Services Center opened 1811 Eastlake, a large apartment-style building on Eastlake Avenue in Seattle. Today, it houses 75 formerly homeless individuals suffering from alcohol addiction.
The subsidized housing project allows individuals to consume alcohol on-property, and it provides voluntary treatment services for residents. Numerous studies have shown it saves taxpayers money, and it helps many people get back on their feet.
A 2009 Journal of the American Medical Association study found it saved the city $4 million in its first year. Homeless alcoholics cost the city $4,000 per month in correctional, detox and emergency services. Residents of 1811 Eastlake cost the city $958 per month.
Many critics believed the project could enable alcoholics to continue drinking, but research hasn’t backed up the hypothesis. A 2012 American Journal of Public Health study found residents experienced reduced psychiatric symptoms and fewer alcohol-related problems because they were exposed to intervention services for an extended period of time.
Duchin and Sully told The Seattle Times that the 1811 Eastlake model was something the opioid task force should consider when developing the safe-consumption drug sites. Daniel Malone, the executive director of DESC, agrees.
“The model is totally replicable for any population with addictions,” Malone told The Seattle Times.
On August 31, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the recipients of $53 million to combat opioid abuse and addiction. The funds were distributed through six grants to 44 states, four tribes and the District of Columbia.
The state of Washington was awarded three grants:
The first grant provides funds to strengthen prescription drug abuse prevention efforts. A total of $9 million will be distributed among 21 states and four tribes.
The overdose prevention grant includes $11 million to be divided among 12 states to support training efforts to prevent opioid overdoses. It also funds the expansion of access to naloxone, an overdose reversal drug.
Fourteen states will receive a share of $11.5 million through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s prescription drug overdose prevention program. The program supports efforts to reduce overdose rates in tribal communities.
“States are on the frontline of preventing prescription opioid overdoses — it is critical that state health departments have the support they need to combat the epidemic,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a press release. “States can use these funds to develop, implement, and evaluate programs that save lives.”