Thursday afternoon just after 1 PM, Seattle Fire medics fought to revive a 29-year-old found unconscious after overdosing inside his 10th Ave E apartment. He was taken to Harborview in critical condition. Another rescue took place just blocks away Sunday as medics revived an overdose victim on the Bobby Morris playfield. Wednesday morning, Seattle Fire could not revive a man in his 20s who died of an overdose at a homeless camp in the greenbelt below Capitol Hill’s Louisa Boren Lookout.
Thursday at City Hall, a Seattle City Council committee heard an update from the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force on its progress to form a plan to help stem the tide of overdoses with a safe consumption site in the city where people addicted to drugs can come and shoot up — and not be alone. But the years-long process is still not close to finding a site for such a facility, officials said Thursday. The new plan, if the city wants to get something in place anytime soon, officials say, is to buy and deploy a “community health engagement” van that would be deployed daily to a dedicated site but would not roam the city.
“When we began to look at all the various options we realized the city doesn’t own a lot of buildings and the buildings we do own often times community centers or park related centers,” task force member Jeff Sakuma, Mayor’s Office said Thursday. “And obviously those would not be appropriate types of building sites.”
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Sakuma said purchasing the van, outfitting it as a safe consumption facility, and performing outreach in the community where it would eventually be parked would cost around $1.8 million. That money has been budgeted. The $1.5 to $2.5 million per year to operate it and staff the program has not.
Cost is also not the only driver behind the van plan. Sakuma said there is concern the federal government could move to seize any property where a safe consumption site is permanently located. The mobile solution would allow the program to separate locations for reception and health services areas as well as a waiting area “so people don’t queue outside” from the facility where drugs are being consumed. “There is a risk of having somebody else’s property seized,” Sakuma said.
Sakuma said the mobile van solution “would be there mostly for individuals who are currently using in public settings” and would require a community partner with property in an area of the city where drug use and overdoses are centered.
“When we think about appropriate locations it’s not going to be in District 5, perhaps, it’s going to be in an area where we’re already seeing high rates of overdose and death,” Housing, Health, Energy, and Workers’ Rights Committee chair Teresa Mosqueda said Thursday.
The task force plan would not be fore the van to roam but to be deployed daily to the same location in the city. The location would have a separate “reception and waiting area” where other resources could be offered including alternatives to illegal drugs. The spending plan also includes “security and neighborhood mitigation services.”
If there is a community partner with property that fits the bill, Capitol Hill continues to be brought up as a possible home for the site. “Capitol Hill is a neighborhood where we’ve actually heard quite a bit from the neighborhood and from the Capitol Hill Community Council just about how invested they are in this and how much they’d really love to host a safe consumption space in their neighborhood,” Patricia Sully with the Public Defenders Association said during public comment Thursday.
Committee chair Mosqueda Thursday expressed support for the mobile van plan in an effort to get something useful in place as soon as possible. But she was troubled by other plan elements — like a timeline shown during the session with no dates. “We really need to have a timeline here,” Mosqueda said, asking for community engagement to be underway by August with the area where the site will eventually be located and for a deal to be in place for the site by November.
Sakuma and the mayor’s office are also pointing at other efforts to increase resources in the county including a new detox facility on Beacon Hill and 40 new locations where buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat opioid addiction, is available.
Thursday, the council committee also heard details on a report on King County overdose death trends that showed the continued increase of deaths involving drugs and alcohol driven by spiking rates of meth and heroin overdoses. The report overview is below.