The locations are far from final and another round of official approval lies ahead but the creation of a safe consumption site pilot in King County — possibly the first such program in the nation — moved ahead Thursday as the Board of Health unanimously approved recommendations from a task force assembled to stem the tide of opioid addiction and deaths.
Thursday’s 12-0 vote paves the way for the creation of two safe injection sites somewhere in King County. Officials are quick to add that no candidate sites have yet been made public. That important and crucial detail will fall to the executive branch in King County and Seattle as Dow Constantine and Mayor Ed Murray are now on the clock to present plans to make the sites reality.
In September, a heroin addiction task force recommended the creation of two safe consumption sites — one in Seattle and one in greater King County.
“I believe we should have these sites,” Murray said at the time. He has visited sites in Vancouver, BC since. There are currently no operating safe consumption sites in the U.S. and task force members acknowledged there would be legal challenges to overcome.
The sites target users who inject and provide low-threshold access to a supervised space to consume pre-obtained illicit drugs, clean equipment, emergency care in the case of overdoses, as well as referrals to healthcare and drug treatment services.
CHS explored the possibility of a safe consumption site on Capitol Hill last year after the neighborhood was dubbed a overdose hub by researchers and experts. The Capitol Hill Community Council has endorsed safe consumption sites.
The founders of a safe injection site based in Vancouver British Columbia called Insite — a non-governmental organization which operates a sanctioned and supervised space where heroin users can obtain clean needles, shoot up in a safe environment, and get connected to health and drug detox services — came to Capitol Hill last spring to discuss the facilities. Over the summer, a mock safe consumption site was set up in Cal Anderson by VOCAL Washington.
In its most recent report (PDF), the UW Alcohol and Drub Abuse Institute said heroin has been the most common drug in county overdose deaths for two years running. 132 people OD’d on heroin in King County in 2015.