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Who, where, how much? What we’ll learn from Seattle safe consumption site ‘feasibility study’

With $1.3 million allocated in the 2018 budget for studying and building a safe consumption site in Seattle, staff at city and county agencies are gearing up to draft the “feasibility study,” a report that will address location and costs for the site, who will pay for it, and how it will be run.

As noted in the $1.3 million budget amendment sponsored by Seattle City Council member Rob Johnson (District 4–Wallingford, University District), the report “must include a full cost estimate and a location for siting that HSD deems viable, and a scope and timeline of necessary capital improvements to create the Safe Consumption Site.”

Additionally, the budget amendment stated that the facility will provide, among other things: “supplies and space for consuming illicit drugs via injection, smoking or sublimation, and nasal inhalation”, overdose treatment (e.g. Naloxone), syringe exchange services, basic medical treatment, wraparound social services and case management, and sexual health supplies.

Prior to the tumultuous 2018 city budget talks, Johnson said that he thought Capitol Hill was an ideal candidate for building a safe consumption site due to the positive community response to the concept and high rate of overdose in the neighborhood.

“We are open to ideas about the location but Capitol Hill does seem to be the most logical,” Johnson told CHS. “[But] we’re going to have logistical challenges any where we go just because of the cost of real estate in the city right now,” he added.

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Council member Kshama Sawant (District 3–Capitol Hill) did not respond to requests for comment on the potential siting of a safe consumption site in her district.

Johnson also said that he thinks that the facility should operate on government-owned property, so as to complicate potential efforts by the Federal Government to intervene. Last February, Republican state Senator Mark Miloscia wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling on him to squash the push for safe consumption sites in Seattle.

Seattle’s proposed safe consumption site would be the first of its kind in the United States.

Safe consumption sites are facilities where drug addicts can consume substances indoors with trained medical staff on hand to prevent fatal overdoses, reduce the spread of disease from dirty needles, and connect addicts to drug treatment services. Last year, the King County Heroin and Prescription Opioid Addiction Task Force endorsed implementing such facilities in King County to address regional opioid addiction. While a controversial novelty in the United States, sanctioned safe consumption sites have operated in Europe for the past several decades.

According to Meg Olberding, spokesperson for the Seattle Human Services Department, staff from human services, the Finance and Administrative Services Department, and King County Public Health will begin coordinating to draft the feasibility study within the next few weeks.

Oberding described the study as more of a “report,” which will address questions such as theoretical capital and operating costs for the site and the shared responsibilities between Seattle and King County in terms of costs, administration and oversight.

“We will begin on that immediately with Human Services Department staff, Finance and Administrative Services and staff at King County as it is due to Council by the end of February,” Oberding wrote in an email.

Both Oberding and a spokesperson for King County Public Health say more details on their report will be available once the involved agencies begin working on it.


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Bob Knudson
Bob Knudson
3 years ago

I hope that the feasibility study will include specific plans and realistic costs for the “wraparound services and case management.” These costs will be very substantial if the program truly wants to be effective in getting addicts to get clean and turn their lives around. It’s fine from a public health perspective to provide a place for addicts to safely do their drugs, but there should also be a REAL effort to help them get OFF drugs altogether….and that effort needs to be much more than just handing them a pamphlet.

3 years ago

This should be located in Rob Johnson’s district in the University District or Wallingford, City Hall or Harborview. I don’t have confidence that the city can effectively manage this. It is going to be a shitshow for two blocks in each direction.

3 years ago
Reply to  Lokiloki

Perhaps in Leschi near Sawant’s house?

You know it’s going to be in Capitol Hill where the rich people don’t live.

Jalair Box
3 years ago

Speak Out Seattle disagrees that drug consumption sites are a viable method of harm reduction in terms of public safety, risks, legalities, and cost effectiveness. SOS upholds the need for people to access effective and long-term treatment and behavioral health services. We support needle exchanges and medicated assisted treatment. Neighborhoods will be negatively impacted if drug consumption sites are built. Heroin and Meth are illegal by state and federal law. Please go to our website. You can say No. You can make a difference if you ask questions, read, and speak out against these sites.

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
3 years ago
Reply to  Jalair Box

Color me shocked that a coalition, that is focused on pearl-clutching and hand-wringing, doesn’t want safe consumption sites.

Their reasoning? Well:

“We do not believe the science is evidence based.”
“We are skeptical of the data generated from InSite in Vancouver, Canada.”

So they don’t think safe injection sites will work because…they don’t believe safe injection sites work. Seriously, they give NO VALID REASON for rejecting safe injection sites.

Also, I love how they completely ignore the vast network of successful safe injection sites all over Europe, that have been around for a long time and have decades of evidence (that thing that SOS claims doesn’t exist) of them working.

Their solution to fight the drug epidemic? Keep doing what we’ve been doing (band aid solution), because it’s CLEARLY working:

“Our coalition supports evidence-based nationally recognized prevention and treatment pathways, including treatment on demand, needle exchanges and expanding distribution of Naloxone.”

SOS is not rooted in reality. Their opinion should NOT be considered when doing the study on safe injection sites.

Phil Mocek
3 years ago
Reply to  Jalair Box

“Speak Out Seattle disagrees that drug consumption sites are a viable method of harm reduction in terms of public safety, risks, legalities, and cost effectiveness.”

How can anyone argue with that? It doesn’t even make sense.
Public safety, risks, legalities, and cost effectiveness, are not terms in which one can describe the viability of safe consumption sites as a method of reducing harm.

Jalair, do you and the rest of your group acknowledge that safe consumption sites reduce harms associated with drug use?

“SOS upholds the need for people to access effective and long-term treatment and behavioral health services.”

What does it mean to uphold a need? Does this mean that SOS members believe that there is a general need for people to access such services? I think it’s often good for people to access such services, and it seems reasonable to say that some of them need to do so, but I don’t think I, you, or anyone else needs anyone else to access such services.

I think we, as a community, should provide access to health services including treatment for substance use disorders to those who want them.

“We support needle exchanges and medicated assisted treatment.”

Great! Syringe exchange programs were controversial and unlawful when initiated. The law was corrected, syringe exchanges have proven effective, and they’re no longer controversial around here.

Unfortunately, now, after we provide people with clean syringes, we send them away to inject elsewhere, and for people who have no home as well as those people who would rather not inject at home, the chosen location is often a park, a public restroom, or an alley. We can do better.

The logical next step is to provide not only appropriate gear, but also an appropriate location, for people with substance use disorder to consume drugs. Safe consumption sites will provide such here as they already provide in nearly 100 other places around the world.