Seattle considering ‘safe places' for addicts to shoot up

They are an unwelcome sight -- syringes abandoned by drug users.

In January alone, the Metropolitan Improvement District Clean Team collected nearly 800 syringes in the mostly downtown Seattle neighborhoods it serves.

"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.

“Everyone's been struggling with this issue," said Patricia Sully, a staff attorney with the Public Defender Association. "We had the war on drugs and it didn't work."

Sully is leading the campaign to bring the safe consumption sites to Seattle.  She says we need new ways to deal with drug abuse.

“Consumption rooms simply deal with that reality," she said. "They deal with the reality that people are dealing with substance abuse. They are using. And they are not currently accessing treatment."

"It doesn't encourage use," says Dr. Banta-Green. "It's trying to keep people alive."

He insists there is evidence the safe consumption sites work.

"You can get a decrease in syringes being discarded," said Dr. Banta-Green. "You can get a decrease in terms of people injecting drugs and using drugs in public.  You can get a decrease in deaths, it looks like, from these facilities."

No one knows exactly where the safe consumption sites would be in Seattle.

But the people involved in the issue say there will be a lot of opportunities for the public to weigh in.  That includes hearing the firsthand experiences of the experts in Vancouver, BC.