Seattle plans $1.3M safe consumption space feasibility study in 2018

An Insite “supervised injection site” in Vancouver, B.C. (Image: Seattle.gov)

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.

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17 thoughts on “Seattle plans $1.3M safe consumption space feasibility study in 2018

    • Vancouver and Vancouver’s public drug use are quite different than Seattle and Seattle’s, so the siting of an SCS here will necessarily differ. Other than physical proximity of the two cities, there’s little if any reason to compare to Vancouver. Studies related to some of the other 100 or so SCSs around the world (mostly in Europe) might be more relevant here.

    • The task force assembled by Seattle, King County, and several exurbs recommended an eight-part plan focused on primary prevention, improved access to treatment, and harm reduction. The King County executive and mayor of Seattle formally accepted all recommendations.

      The coordinated approach recommended by the task force will likely fail if we implement only portions of the plan, ignoring or neglecting other portions of it.

  1. 1.3 million to learn how folks can do illegal drugs in a safe environment. Wow. As noted, why are we reinventing the wheel if other places are already doing it?

    I’m curious what makes this study is so complex that it requires so much money.

  2. That price tag seems high for something that has been fairly well studied (as advocates has told us repeatedly). Considering the situation on the streets, I’d prefer that money just go straight towards the site or other services.

    This may benefit agencies that produce studies more than it helps addicts.

  3. I’m assuming they have studied the Vancouver location. Seattle’s opioid epidemic seems more spread out with little pockets all over town, will require a different model. In Vancouver it was a no-brainer to place the CHEL (Community Health Engagement Location) where there was A LOT of drug activity. Perhaps Seattle will opt for mobile units that the city could reserve parking for? And for those concerned about money going away from treatment to these locations–places such as these are the best way to ease folks into treatment. There is a lot of stigma around addiction. Being able to meet with a medical provider without fear of judgement is a huge first step.

  4. We need mobile clinics not a brick and mortor site. It should park one day a week (or 2 hours/day) in every district of the city on a set schedule. If it is successful, add more and expand them throughout King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties). Why should one neighborhood and one city take this on alone? If there is a brick and mortor site, it should be by Harborview or at City Hall (or in Rob Johnson’s district). It isn’t fair to businesses and residents on Capitol Hill to put this in the middle of a business district. The safe injection site in Vancouver has created a permanently blighted area swarming with addicts, dealers and petty crime. Safe injection sites in Europe work much better because they strictly enforce the law around them (I.e, no drug dealing, no camping, no stealing, no vandalism). Seattle doesn’t seem to have the political will to provide services AND strictly manage the negative impacts of a troubled population. The study is mechanism to justify dumping it on one neighborhood (probably Capitol Hill, Beltown, or the ID) and make a bs argument about how the impacts will be mitigated. They will put it not where it makes the most sense, but rather where they will have to expend the least political capital. A brick and mortar site will end in lawsuits and years of delay, regardless of the outcome of the study. Instead, they should spend the $1.3million on a mobile clinic. There will be less resistance, and it won’t be as easy for the Feds to shut down. If it works, they can consider buying more in future years.

    • It will be on Capitol Hill. The residents here don’t complain as much as most of the other neighborhoods, and a younger more progressive crowd lives here. The chances of it being anywhere north of the ship canal are nil.

      Truthfully, how would far addicts travel? So they will want to put it where the highest street junkie populations is (Capitol Hill)

    • Note that the Capitol Hill Community Council were early supporters of the area campaign to establish SCSs. This isn’t so much about who will complain the least, but about where the need for SCSs and community support for them is greatest.

  5. “We need mobile clinics not a brick and mortar site. It should park one day a week (or 2 hours/day) in every district of the city on a set schedule. ”
    How often do addicts inject themselves? At least daily I, guess, so a mobile site may not suffice. I also suspect that we need to keep the location constant and the hours constant to make it easy for the (drug-addled) users to access it.

    [Joke: why not put it on the Capitol Hill Streetcar? It’s easy to find, clean, well-lit and pretty much empty?]

  6. I support such a site IF the “treatment access and other services” part is actually utilized in significant numbers by the addicts. Otherwise, it is just enabling ongoing drug use.

    • @Phil: Bob is one of those special people, who want the solution to be 101% free of cost to taxpayers, 101% effective and 101% out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

      Anything less than that is a no go for them and they’ll gnash their teeth and wring their hands to the bone until it fails. They seem to prefer the ongoing epidemic, for which there is no end in site.

      Of course, if you ask them for suggestions, they have absolutely nothing to offer, just criticism of proven effective solutions.

  7. 1.3 million? What is being done about rent control and the growing cost of living in Seattle? People that actually have jobs and apartments/homes that can’t afford to live in the city anymore because of Amazon.

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