Giving people with substance-abuse disorders a place to safely get treatment is a noteworthy cause, but allowing them to hide in a clinic where they can consume drugs without repercussion is something Seattle and King County leadership should think twice about.
In January, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray agreed to recommendations presented by a 40-member task force that included the creation of safe injection sites where one could “safely consume opioids and be connected to onsite treatment.”
City and county leadership have long thought of the original safe injection site in Vancouver, B.C. as a model for what can be done in our area.
But will safe sites do enough to curb the opioid epidemic to justify their existence in King County?
Vancouver safe injection sites
There have been no deaths in Vancouver’s injection sites, according to the Vancouver Sun. That’s a good start, but it’s not nearly enough for a city or county suffering from an epidemic.
In 2016, British Columbia dealt with nearly 1,000 overdose deaths across the province. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson called it “totally unacceptable,” Vice reported. According to a report by British Columbia, the number of illicit drug overdose deaths overall skyrocketed at the end of last year.
In March 2017, there were 120 suspected drug overdose deaths in British Columbia; a 51.9 percent increase over March 2016. Those 120 deaths equate to approximately 3.9 deaths per day. British Columbia’s senior public health official Dr. Perry Kendall told the Vancouver Sun that the death toll this year from illicit drug overdoses could exceed the nearly 1,000 deaths in 2016.
So, while people utilizing the injection sites are seeing a direct benefit of not dying from overdoses, the situation in Vancouver and British Columbia as a whole is far from under control.
Perhaps that’s why Bothell City Councilmember Joshua Freed proposed an initiative that would ban injection sites in King County. It has already received support, including from Sen. Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way), who attempted to ban the sites in the past.
“We must stop the push for decriminalization of drugs,” he said. “Standing idly by while addicts abuse illegal drugs is not compassionate, and it does not solve the problem.”
As The Seattle Times points out, people opposed to the sites in Canada argue they only enable addiction. Critics of the program say the margin of people who successfully finish treatment is also dismally low — a fact that supporters counter by saying the statistics don’t include those who wean off drugs through other methods, such as medication.
Supporters of the injection sites argue that people are going to use drugs no matter what and that at least giving them a place where they have a better chance of survival if they OD is better than nothing. That may be true, but in Seattle alone, Seattle Fire responded to more than 2,500 overdoses between 2014 and around the beginning of this year. It’s unlikely one or two safe sites will be enough to save all those people.
Instead of spending time searching for places where people can use the drugs that are destroying their lives, perhaps our city and county leaders should pump more effort into lowering the cost of treatment and helping people end their addictions.
Otherwise, we could be pigeon-holed as the next Vancouver.
— Supt. Michelle Davey (@VPDSuperDavey) May 3, 2017