Now that a task force to address King County’s heroin epidemic has unveiled its recommendations, the hard work begins.
Some of the strategies in the report are already in motion, like making naloxone, a drug that prevents overdoses, readily available.
But one idea that’s sure to raise controversy, is a supervised site for drug use. The closest example of what the task force recommends is in Vancouver, British Columbia. The site provides people a safe, clean space to use drugs, but under medical supervision. It prevents overdoses, it keeps drug use and paraphernalia out of public spaces.
Seattle’s version would be called a Community Health Engagement Location. The task force envisions a portal for people to get the medical and social services they need.
Task force member Thea Oliphant-Wells is a social worker at the Seattle Needle Exchange program. She’s been in recovery for 11 years. “In 11 years, I got what I needed. And I say this a lot. I am not remarkable,” she says. “The remarkable thing is I got what I needed. And that shouldn’t be remarkable. We should be figuring out what people need and making sure that they get it.”
The task force recommends two locations, one in Seattle and another within King County. The programs could be part of Seattle King County Public Health or a public-private partnership.
It’s now up to lawmakers to decide how to make these recommendations happen, and how to pay for them. King County Executive Dow Constantine admits it’s going to be a tough sell. “If this is a strategy that saves lives, if there are people who are going to do if we do not do this, then regardless of the political discomfort, I think it is something we have to move forward with.”
Drug use is already in every community. Constantine says the goal is to make treatment providers as available and engaging as the drug dealers are.