Seattle poised to spend $2 million on safe injection site

A man prepares heroin he bought on the street to be injected at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. King County has proposed two similar sites for its region. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File

SEATTLE — Seattle is poised to spend $2 million on a safe injection site next year, but first the council wants to make sure it calls it by the proper name — CHEL.

"I would encourage us to look at the name our opioid task force gave us, which is a 'Community Health Engagement Location,'" Councilmember Sally Bagshaw noted during the council's budget discussion Wednesday.

“What we are proposing is far more than a safe consumption site,” she said. “Particularly, when we get into provision or referral of basic medical treatment, peer support, and health education. I know the term ‘safe consumption site’ makes a lot of people goosey. I would prefer to focus on the public health approach to it.”

It’s not the first time Bagshaw has addressed language on the dais. In June 2016, she also took a stand on the “Jungle” — Seattle’s infamous homeless encampment under I-5.

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“The last number of weeks, we have been talking a lot about the greenbelt,” she said during the June council meeting. “It used to be known to us as the ‘Jungle,’ but words matter …”

Of course, the "Jungle" was just that — the Jungle. It's how people who lived there — and the rest of Seattle — had referenced it for decades, despite the city calling it the "I-5 East Duwamish Greenbelt" on Bagshaw's insistence. It really hurt local radio's ability to use "Welcome to the Jungle" to lead into stories.

Not every council member cares about what the safe injection sites, er, CHEL … community health engagement locations are called.

“We can call it whatever we want, I just want to fund it,” Councilmember Lorena González responded.

$2 million for CHEL

Insite — the closest facility to Seattle in Vancouver B.C. — calls itself a supervised injection site. According to supporters of I-27 — the initiative to ban the proposed facilities in King County — they are called something like "socialist heroin injection death dens."

Whatever you want to call them, they are places where addicts can consume drugs — illegal drugs — without fear of arrest. Medical personnel will be on hand to respond to overdoses and other issues.

King County formed an opioid task force in 2016. It came up with eight recommendations to fight the current heroin crisis. One recommendation was to establish two of the sites — one in Seattle and another elsewhere in King County. It's been a controversial proposal. Some cities have banned the sites in advance and Initiative 27 is en route to the Supreme Court.

The Seattle City Council, after deciding on what to call the sites, seems eager and ready to fund a CHEL in town. Seattle doesn’t know where it will locate the facility yet, but the council wants to set aside $2 million for the program. The budget provision is sponsored by Councilmember González. Given that council members Bagshaw, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez, Kshama Sawant, Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley are also in favor of spending the $2 million, it is likely to make it into the 2018 budget.

“I think it’s long overdue for us to now begin the process of taking action and moving this forward,” González said.

While the consumption aspect of the Seattle CHEL is what makes headlines, what the city is proposing expands beyond safe injections. The proposed $2 million will cover:

  • Overdose treatment, naloxone and oxygen
  • Overdose prevention, naloxone kit
  • Syringe exchange services
  • Sexual health resources and supplies
  • Referral to basic medical treatment, social services, case management
  • Peer support, health education
  • Rapid linkage to medication-assisted treatment, detox services and outpatient / inpatient treatment services
  • Supplies and space for consuming illicit drugs via injection, smoking or sublimation, and nasal inhalation
  • Post-consumption observation space

The $2 million proposed for the Seattle CHEL is part of the budget the council is currently crafting. It is expected to be passed before the end of the year.