Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine are moving forward with all eight of the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force’s recommendations to battle the region’s deadly epidemic.
“Opioid addiction is killing people in our community, sparing no age, race, sexual identity, income level or neighborhood,” Constantine said last week. “The experts we brought together have provided us with the battle plan we need to defeat this epidemic — a plan to save lives, to make it easier for people to get the help they need, to prevent the devastating harm that addiction causes. Unless we are willing to let this suffering continue, we have an obligation to turn their plan into action.”
The nearly 40 experts from public health, criminal justice, hospitals, schools and treatment providers and researchers convened in March 2016 and released a report and recommendations in September.
The recommendations fall into three categories — primary prevention, treatment expansion and enhancement, and health and harm reduction.
Under prevention, the task force recommends increasing awareness of the effects of using, including overdosing, promoting medication storage and disposal, and working with schools and providers to better identify opioid use.
Recommendations to improve treatment includes making buprenorphine more accessible, developing on-demand treatment, and increasing treatment capacity so it’s available when and where someone is ready.
Finally to reduce health and harm the task force suggests distributing more naloxone kits, a heroin overdose antidote, and providing more training for providers, first responders and officers, and creating a three-year pilot project for two safe consumption sites.
In March elected officials urged the task force not to wait on actions that could save lives. The county already launched a pilot project offering rapid access to buprenorphine at King County’s Downtown Public Health Needle Exchange. 500 naloxone kits were distributed in March 2016. Since then 1,000 more have been provided. Earlier this month the Board of Health approved creating two safe injection sites — one in Seattle and one in greater King County.
No safe consumption sites currently exist in the U.S., but Murray has visited sites in Vancouver BC. 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 health care and drug treatment services.
CHS explored the possibility of a safe consumption site on Capitol Hill last year after the neighborhood was dubbed an overdose hub by researchers and experts. The Capitol Hill Community Council has endorsed safe consumption sites.
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.