Seattle City Council looks to combat rising overdoses with reward system

Oct 25, 2022, 12:01 PM
A homeless man holds a syringe after injecting methamphetamine into his arm on March 13, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. Widespread drug addiction is endemic in Seattle's large homeless community, which the city is currently trying to move out from shared public spaces. According to a recent report commissioned by Seattle Councilmember Andrew Lewis, the COVID-19 pandemic put undue pressure on the city's shelter system and delayed funds for new housing, leading to an increase in homelessness. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

According to a new report from the Seattle Auditors Office, there has been an alarming rise in deadly methamphetamine overdoses, leading city officials to ask what can be done to stop it.

The annual number of overdose deaths from meth has gone from 98 per year to 365 per year over the last five years. So far in 2022, there have been 318 meth overdoses in Seattle.

Overdose, suicide, homicides near record highs according to report from Medical Examiners office

A racial disparity can also be seen in the overdose rates. Overdoses for Black people have increased 255% and overdoses for American Indians increased 233%, while meth overdoses among white people increased 115%. This is consistent with national figures on meth overdoses.

The audit also highlights how much the overdose crisis impacts the homeless community, with an estimated 74% of all meth overdoses believed to be people experiencing homelessness.

The research was conducted because Seattle City Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Lisa Herbold requested the Auditor’s Office put together a report. They are now proposing what they call “contingency management,” a reward system for people to stay clean.

“In Seattle, we estimate that nearly 3,800 people ages 18 and over suffer from methamphetamine use disorder, based on 2020 data. Recent survey data suggest that a significant number of these individuals might be interested in treatment to reduce or stop their methamphetamine use, especially if the treatment is easy to get,” the report says.

The solution? Using a method called Contingency Management, a behavioral intervention program, to reinforce sobriety from meth.

The report proposes a 12-week intervention program with participants meeting with practitioners twice a week. At the meetings, participants would submit to a urine drug test and if they test negative for the targeted substance, they receive a reward, usually a gift card or voucher.

The average total reward someone would be able to receive through a 12-week intervention would be about $300.

“Although Contingency Management is ‘broadly effective,’ more research is needed to ensure that it will evolve over time to increase its effectiveness across different populations and measure long-term abstinence.”

There is currently a pilot program using this reward method in development using two clinics to serve 45 people.

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Seattle City Council looks to combat rising overdoses with reward system