Capitol Hill residents and businesses have been looking for new solutions to the opiate addiction crisis. You can only call 911 so many times to take care of somebody overdosing and you can only pick up so many needles before you look for better ways to help. In 2018, Seattle plans to spend the money to figure out how to put one new solution into place.
Tucked into the 2018 budget passed last week before the Thanksgiving holiday are funds allocated for “a feasibility study for siting a safe consumption site in Seattle.” Capitol Hill is considered by some to be a prime area to host the facility.
It’s officially called a Supervised Consumption Space (SCS), a public health facility where people who are living with substance disorders can use drugs in a medically supervised environment while gaining access to treatment and other services. Services often include caseworkers, mental health counselors and referrals. Seattle would be the first in the U.S. to have an SCS.
A mother with a strong Capitol Hill connection supports the effort.
“As a family member of someone who lost their life to an accidental overdose, I know that today’s action will save many lives,” said Marlys McConnell, an SCS advocate, in a statement from the Yes to SCS coalition following last week’s budget vote. Andrew McConnell passed away from a heroin overdose in 2015. The son of Marlys McConnell and Caffe Vita founder Mike McConnell was 27. “We must do more to help the growing number of people in our region who are struggling and suffering with substance use disorder,” she said.
“Now we’re in a situation where we give people their safe needles and we now say ‘go to your car, go to the park, go in the streets,’” Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan previously told CHS. “That makes no sense at all. We need to have a place where people can use drugs under the supervision of a healthcare worker to make sure that they don’t die.”
The budget line item: $1.3 million with an additional $500,000 already appropriated from King County to plan the facility. City officials will produce a feasibility study on siting an SCS facility by February 27th. Opening the site will cost much more. UPDATE: A staffer from City Council member Rob Johnson’s office tells CHS that portions of the $1.3 million could also be used for capital and operating expenses depending on the results of the study.
During her campaign run, Durkan expressed support for safe consumption primarily based on successful data. There are approximately 100 sites operating in Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands, where multiple studies show these facilities save lives and can help connect people to the services they need. These programs are proven to reduce the risk of fatal overdose and help prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis C while reducing outdoor drug use in neighborhoods.
As it stands today, many businesses around Capitol Hill have needle-drop off boxes to try to address public health and safety concerns. The SHARPS Collection Pilot Program from Seattle Pacific Utilities gathers approximately 2,000 needles a month.
Officials have been working on community outreach and siting issues for more than a year. In early 2017, CHS talked with Brad Finegood, assistant division director at King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division about the process. “There are so many things to undertake in an effort like this where A) there’s none in the U.S. and B) there’s so many community groups to discuss it with,” Finegood said at the time. Finegood said those working on the consumption sites are considering data such as where overdoses are occurring. “You want to locate it where it’s going to have the most public health impact,” he said.
City Council member Rob Johnson, representing Wallingford and the University District, previously told Seattle Weekly that Capitol Hill is a likely suitable candidate, given high overdose rates and positive community response. The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington showed King County’s heroin intake dramatically increased for those 26 and older in 2015 and 2016. Those year’s primary killers were meth, heroin, and prescription opioids. Subsequently, 2016 saw the highest number of drug-induced deaths in King County history: 322. But King County’s overall population and homeless populations are also at all-time highs.