3 takeaways from Public Health’s safe injection presentation
King County health officials took to Facebook to address mounting concerns over planned safe injection sites.
Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin and Brad Findgood, who previously co-chaired the county’s Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, were on hand during the live event hosted by Public Health – Seattle & King County.
“These are locations that are public health services, that provide a safe space for people who are already using drugs in public spaces,” Duchin said. “… allow them to come indoors, under the supervision of a healthcare worker, use their drugs and have an overdose reversed if they should suffer from an overdose …”
“Certainly, we don’t believe someone should be pushed out onto the street after they are given clean injection equipment … and told to go inject in an alleyway, or in a restroom of a coffee shop, unattended, where you could die alone when we could save a life,” he continued.
But anxiety over the actual safety of safe injection sites has grown in King County. A Bothell councilmember even started a petition to ban them.
It’s those concerns that Duchin and Finegood attempted to address.
Do safe injection sites encourage drug use?
The closest facility to Seattle is in Vancouver B.C. But the safe injection system has been used in Europe for some time, Finegood said. Therefore, there is evidence and studies available to help gauge their effects.
Duchin argued that the facilities don’t increase drug use, rather, they divert current drug use and directly engage users and more efficiently address the problem.
Duchin points out that there were similar concerns surrounding needle exchanges. Now, he says exchanges are a “safe and effective intervention to save lives and prevent disease.”
“I think we are going to see the same thing with these supervised consumption facilities in the United States. We’re just a little bit behind the curve,” he said.
“Giving people a safe place to inject who are already injecting in unsafe ways, doesn’t in any way invite more drug use,” he added.
Where will the facilities be located?
What is known is that one facility is planned for Seattle and another for greater King County. But no exact locations have been decided.
“We have no interest in siting these in a community that doesn’t have these problems,” Finegood said. “The idea behind a supervised consumption space is: Where are the problems already happening? Where are people overdosing outside? Where are needles being discarded outside? Where are people dying from heroin use?”
“We have a lot of that information … people are already using publicly. We know that,” he said. “I came across somebody overdosing last week on my walk to the bus. A colleague walked into a Starbucks a couple weeks ago and somebody was overdosing in the bathroom. These things are happening already. This is just an intervention that says, You do not need to use alone. You do not need to be stigmatized, or have prejudice, or discrimination because of your illness. Come indoors, talk to a healthcare worker, and we can help.”
Duchin said there is no timeline for when the safe injection sites will open. He said officials would have liked to have them up and running “yesterday.”
Finegood noted that a person dies from heroin and opiate overdose approximately every 36 hours in King County.
“By the numbers, if we don’t have a facility set up where people can come and be safe in a day and a half from now, somebody’s life is in jeopardy,” Finegood said.
But that wasn’t the only number he dropped while arguing for safe injection sites.
• King County spends about $200 million on addiction treatment resources every two years.
• Two studies from San Francisco and Baltimore show health savings of about $6 million from the implementation of safe injection sites.
• It would take between $500,000 to $2 million a year to start and staff the safe injection sites in King County.
• Zero people have died worldwide at a safe injection facility, Finegood said.