A Seattle city councilwoman said she has volunteered Seattle for two safe injection sites for heroin users in Seattle: one in Belltown and one in Lake City.
"The county was pretty specific about saying we're not sure, outside of Seattle, who's ready for it," Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw said, referencing the King County Heroin Task Force's recommendations in September. The task force recommended one site in Seattle and one in King County.
"We raised our hands and said, 'Then let us try two, let us pilot two.' And maybe one down here one in North Seattle, as an example, because we do have the facilities and the place – one in Belltown, one in Lake City. We're ready to go, but we need some help," Bagshaw said.
Safe injection sites are designated clinics where addicts can shoot up legally.
Shea Saxe said he’s in favor of it but has specific concerns.
“I think the city absolutely needs it, but the neighborhood where the site is located must approve of it in order to mitigate the tensions which are sure to come,” he said.
Vancouver is home to the only safe injection site in North America, Insite. KIRO 7 visited earlier this year and saw how people receive clean supplies to shoot up under medical supervision, with access to social services. But we also found people using drugs right outside.
In Lake City, Rachel Guthrie, who works in social services in the neighborhood, was in favor of the sites.
“When you provide people with a safe space, and maybe with connections to resources for ending drug addiction if someone is choosing that, that's a step in the right direction,” she said.
But that’s not convincing to Celia Martinez, who works in Belltown.
“I think it's just going to increase crime,” she said. “I understand people need to get help, but I don’t think this is the best setting.”
At the Vancouver site, the manager said since opening in 2003, the overdose death rate in the area around the clinic has dropped 35 percent. But the clinic also estimates 15 to 20 percent of people using the site come from other parts of the country specifically for it.
It is unclear whether and how the public will get to weigh in on where the safe injection sites in Seattle might be located.
KIRO 7 contacted Councilwoman Bagshaw’s office multiple times throughout the week but did not receive any replies.
In Seattle, public overdoses are on the rise. Supporters say so-called safe injection sites are a way to combat the overdoses. In a recent KIRO 7 News investigative report, we mapped out where overdosing cases happen. Here's a 2016 map.
Overdoses are overloading Seattle Fire and diverting crews from other emergencies. Each call costs at least two-thousand-dollars, costing taxpayers millions since 2014.
Here’s a timeline of how the discussion behind Seattle becoming the first U.S. city with sites for heroin users to safely use drugs.
September 2016: King County Heroin Crisis Task Force recommends 2 injection sites
The King County Heroin Crisis Task Force is recommending at least two safe injection sites for drug users: one located within Seattle and one outside city limits.
They announced the recommendation with a proposed number of locations in a news conference on Thursday.
“These sites will provide individuals with opiod use disorder a portal to return to healthy lives by reducing overdoses and preventing infections like Hep B & C HIV,” said Jeff Duchin, a health officer with Public Health of Seattle & King County.
August 2016: Local leaders take big step toward ‘safe consumption site' for addicts
A majority of people on King County heroin’s task force support the idea of a safe consumption site.
Proponents of a "safe consumption site" point to a similar housing operation in Seattle, where 75 alcoholics can drink in their rooms and have access to on-site treatment services. Studies show the operation saved taxpayers millions in housing and crisis services annually and decreased alcohol consumption in residents.
February 2014: Seattle considering ‘safe places' for addicts to shoot up
KIRO 7 News reported in February that Seattle could be the first city in the U.S. to allow safe consumption sites, where people with drug addiction can safely use drugs under medical supervision.
"I've done a lot of work looking at where are people dying of drug overdoses," said Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, a University of Washington drug researcher. "It's all across King County. It's not just downtown."
Dr. Banta-Green says the use of illegal drugs like heroin has become a public health crisis.
"I do think we have to do something," he said. "It's really quite striking."
That something, say drug prevention activists, should be safe injection or consumption sites, like in Vancouver, British Columbia, where users take drugs in a clinic without risking arrest.
Opponents say a consumption site condones drug use.
So what would a consumption site look like?
KIRO 7 News went to Vancouver to see how the injection site operated and if a King County site would run similarly.
When a KIRO 7 News crew was in Vancouver, we saw people injecting on the street -- they told us because of the wait to get a booth.
The clinic does not give users drugs; it provides free, clean supplies.
“People often go with a cooker, alcohol, need a tie for your arm, a bit of water,” clinic manager Andy Day told KIRO 7 News.
Staff members at the clinic refer to people who seek help as clients. Clients take their supplies to one of 13 booths fitted with mirrors and inject themselves under the watchful eyes of health care professionals. The booths are almost always full.
Since opening in 2003, Day says the overdose death rate in the area around Insite has dropped 35 percent, and saving addicts in the clinic costs three million taxpayer dollars a year.
Day says that's cheaper than treating them in the hospital for the drugs, or diseases contracted because of the drugs.
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