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Safe Consumption Sites May Soon Open in Seattle

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine formed the Heroin Task Force in Seattle, and the organization has recently endorsed the opening of safe-consumption sites for those in the local area who are addicted to drugs like heroin and crack-cocaine. These safe-consumption sites would be the first of their kind in the United States.

The goal is to phase out the congregations of homeless addicts that form in public places, like public bathrooms, alleys, or homeless encampments like Seattle’s “The Jungle” - environments that are unclean and may encourage the sharing of dirty needles or overdose. Safe-consumption sites would be supervised facilities where addicts could receive both clean needles and anti-overdose medication, as well as opportunities for medical attention and potential treatment.

What safe-consumption sites would not do is address the issue of homelessness that runs rampant among addicts. To compensate, Murray has suggested a dormitory-style of homeless shelter that would be designed similarly to San Francisco’s Navigation Center, only it would permit such luxuries as pets, partners, and storage and would even permit intoxicated residents to stay there (something other shelters do not allow) in an effort to provide a clean and stable environment for addicts, rather than the homeless encampments they succumb to.

Outreach worker and drug policy researcher Kris Nyrop of the Public Defender Association makes a good point in that, while he does support safe-consumption sites, the trick is in ensuring that these sites permit their residents to use while on site, else the residents will just head back to the alleys or The Jungle where they came from, rendering the safe-consumptions sites useless.

Nyrop points to 1811 Eastlake Avenue, where a building referred to simply as “1811” houses 75 chronic alcoholics who are all allowed to drink in their rooms and are offered treatment services on site, should they choose to use them. 1811 hasn’t just been beneficial to its residents but also to its taxpayers as well, saving residents $4 million per year that would have otherwise been spent on housing and crisis services for addicts who would have otherwise been homeless and living on the street.

Also noteworthy is that alcohol consumption among 1811’s residents dropped by about a third, compared to the amount they would have been drinking had they remained on the street. Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, co-chair of the Heroin Task Force, thinks that 1811 is a prime example that should be followed for potential models in the future. Patricia Sully, another member of the Task Force, agrees, saying that “there is every reason to believe” that similar models would yield equally successful results.

While Daniel Malone, executive director of Downtown Emergency Service Center, believes that 1811’s model can be applied to any community that suffers from addiction, no matter the illicit substance, he also points out that housing developments should be willing to accept addicts as they are without expecting them to abstain from the drug once they’re accepted into the establishment. Developments should also offer treatment services but not demand that their residents avail themselves of them.