Seattle considers creating a safe place to use drugs | KUOW News and Information

Seattle considers creating a safe place to use drugs

Apr 25, 2016

It’s been more than a month since a task force was formed to address King County’s heroin epidemic.

One solution that’s under discussion is creating a safe site for people to use drugs under medical supervision. The idea is unconventional and controversial, but supporters like Patricia Sully say previous approaches haven’t worked.  

“We’ve seen a lot of harm by the war on drugs,” Sully said. She said the war on drugs has led to high rates of convictions and incarceration, and many are people of color. 

Sully is with the Public Defender Association, one of the groups pushing for such a safe site. Supporters recently gathered outside the King County Courthouse in a park where people do drugs in public.

Sully said it’s time to try something different. “While safe consumption spaces are not the answer to all problems, they are a front door that can help people access a continuum of care.”

Vancouver, British Columbia, is the only city in North America with a safe consumption space. It was created in 2003 and has reduced overdoses by 30 percent near the facility, according to a national study. There’s talk about creating a similar site in King County.  

Brad Finegood is with the agency overseeing the county’s mental health and substance abuse treatment services. He’s also part of the task force that was formed to come up with plans to address the epidemic.  Finegood said a safe consumption space alone is not going to do the job.

“It needs to be coupled with people getting into treatment when they want treatment. It needs to be coupled with better prevention,” he said. “A safe consumption facility on its own is not going to solve the problem of our community.”

Finegood said the panel is trying to determine if such a space is right for the community.

Even if the idea gets support from city, county and law enforcement leaders, it’s still illegal under federal law to use drugs.