Doctor: Why US attorney is wrong about safe injection sites

Apr 11, 2019, 5:10 AM | Updated: 5:14 am
safe injection sites...
A mural encourages people to pick up the overdose antidote Narcan at a nearby "safe injection site" on the east side of downtown Vancouver, Canada. (AP Photo/Jeremy Hainsworth)
(AP Photo/Jeremy Hainsworth)

A U.S. Attorney has told Seattle officials “don’t go there” when it comes to safe injection sites. And Mayor Jenny Durkan has said she is taking the threat seriously. Now, it’s time for a doctor to weigh in and explain why many in the medical field support the method of harm reduction and treatment.

“These are places that are going to be staffed by health care professionals, and the hope is to prevent overdose deaths — that’s the real purpose of safe consumption sites,” Dr. Robert Wood told the Candy, Mike, and Todd Show. “We’ve had an increase in the last 10 years of overdose deaths – twice as many now as 10 years ago … if we could get a substantial chunk of the people shooting up to use these safe consumption sites, we could prevent, an estimate from King County, 160 or so overdose deaths a year.”

“I think a lot of people want to treat drug use as a legal problem, but from my perspective it really ought to be treated as a medical problem” he said. “These people are sick. They need to be in treatment … and we need to prevent their acquiring diseases and their deaths in the meantime. I don’t think the way to approach drug abuse is through legal means. A better way is to approach it is through medical treatment and harm reduction.”

Wood is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington. He was previously the director of the HIV/AIDS program for King County.

Safe injection sites and Seattle

Seattle’s effort to establish a safe injection site has proven difficult. Two Community Health Engagement Locations (CHEL sites) have been approved for the region — one in King County, and one in Seattle. The city set aside $2 million for the venture in 2017. Officials have since debated how to exactly implement the idea, even considering a mobile safe injection van.

RELATED: Dozens of underground safe injection sites operating in Seattle
RELATED: Vancouver BC investing more in safe injection sites

More recently, U.S. Attorney Brian Moran has come out against the safe injection sites, and has told Seattle officials he would deem them in violation of the law. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she supports exploring a range of ideas to combat the opioid crisis and will take Moran’s threat seriously.

Wood recently co-authored an op-ed in The Seattle Times arguing that U.S. Attorney Moran is wrong and is basing his stance on ideology, not facts. He notes that King County set yet another tragic record in 2018 — nearly 400 people died of drug overdoses. Many of those were related to opioids.

Meanwhile, there are safe consumption facilities operating in Australia and Europe. Canada also uses safe injection sites, in fact, just over the border from Washington. Facilities in Vancouver, BC have boasted success with the program, known as Insite, the first legal supervised drug injection site in North America.

Criticism of safe consumption sites

Wood has heard criticism from locals about Vancouver, BC’s safe injection program, including the notion that overdoses have risen in recent years despite Insite being available.

“The attribution of increased deaths in Vancouver is related to increased use of fentanyl … and fentanyl has become a major problem in our country as well, and that’s resulted in a lot of overdoses across the country,” he said, further arguing that there would have been even more reports in BC of overdose deaths without safe injection sites.

Wood explains that safe injection sites are key points of contact between drug treatment services and addicts.

“That’s what we’ve use the needle exchange programs for, as a route into drug treatment,” Wood said. “If people keep seeing us over time, people in public health are befriending these populations over time, we can put them wait lists for drug treatment programs or help them figure out other ways of getting into treatment.”

“I think a lot of people are worried about the ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ phenomenon, sometimes we call that NIMBY,” he also said. “We’ve experienced that a lot with the needle exchange programs as well. A lot of people think these programs will attract people to their area and make the region less desirable.”

“But in fact, studies have shown that needle exchanges help to bring cleanliness to the area because users will bring in their dirty needles and exchange them for sterile needles,” Wood said. “The same thing, I think, could happen … at a safe consumption site. There would be less impact on the neighborhood.”

Wood further says that police will likely keep an even closer watch around safe injection sites, likely making drug dealers wary of hanging around them.

Candy Mike and Todd

guns, assault weapons, gun, 1639, 1639 gun initiative, gun tax...
Mike Lewis

Mike: We should not restrict guns but their owners are different story

If you are a commercial pilot or general contractor likely you understand the value of licensing; So why not license gun owners?
3 years ago
snow day...
MyNorthwest Staff

What’s better for kids: a school snow day or a two-hour delay?

The recent snow fall stirred up a debate: What's better for kids, a snow day or two-hour delay?
3 years ago
shoveling snow...
MyNorthwest Staff

Candy: Everyone should shovel snow as a chore

Shoveling snow is a unique experience here in the Pacific Northwest. Here are five reasons everyone should shovel snow as a chore.
3 years ago
Todd Herman

The theft of parental rights in Washington state is unconscionable and immoral

Quoting a law passed in Democrat-controlled Washington state originally designed to make sure girls could get secret abortions, insurance companies have been writing to parents informing them they no longer have any rights to be involved in crucial, life-altering decisions their kids want to make.
3 years ago
MyNorthwest Staff

Guilt tipping has got to stop

We are seeing tipping pop up in unusual places. I've seen new tip lines at a craft store, clothing store, and a 7-11 in the last few months.
3 years ago
Space Needle fireworks, New Year's Eve, seattle baby...
MyNorthwest Staff

Tell me I’m wrong: Everyone should have a New Year’s resolution

What is preventing us from reaching our fitness goals the rest of the year? KIRO Radio's Candy Harper weighs in.
3 years ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Doctor: Why US attorney is wrong about safe injection sites