It's official: Seattle plans to be the first city in the United States to open a site for users to inject illegal drugs – without police intervention.
Officials are making plans for two safe consumption sites — the first would open in Seattle and the second would be elsewhere in King County.
The sites, called Community Health Engagement Locations, are a response to an opioid crisis in the county, health and law enforcement officials said on Friday afternoon. The recommendation came from a task force examining opioid dependence in the area.
More people in King County enter detox for heroin than alcohol, the task force said in a statement. Opioid overdose deaths have also increased. People working at these locations would provide drug users access to health care and treatment.
Seattle and King County are opening these sites on their own — they won’t be asking the federal Drug Enforcement Agency for permission.
In theory, the DEA could storm the safe consumption site, said Sheriff John Urquhart.
“I can’t control the federal government. I can’t control the DEA,” he said. But he said that’s unlikely.
“I’m confident they will understand the needs of this community, just like they have with marijuana,” he continued. “We don’t have the federal government coming in here and making marijuana arrests. I’m not the least bit worried about what the DEA is going to do when the safe consumption site opens.”
Urquhart said his deputies won’t go after someone going to the site.
Caleb Banta-Green, a research scientist at the University of Washington, said 87 percent of drug users in Seattle and King County polled said they would use a safe consumption site.
“It does not increase drug use; it does not increase harm in communities,” Banta-Green said. “It decreases public drug consumption.”
Dr. Jeff Duchin, head of Seattle/King County Public Health, added: “This is a local health emergency. We are using an extension of a known, proven and accepted harm-reduction campaign, needle exchanges.
“We are treating this as a local issue, and we don’t routinely – and we haven’t in this case – sought any other authority; we don’t think we need to.”
Next steps are figuring out the exact locations for the sites and funding. County officials will also be looking at what services and staffing are needed.
Seattle is patterning the safe consumption sites after one in Vancouver, B.C. That one is beholden to the Canadian federal government, unlike this one, which is an entirely local effort.