Heroin Task Force Recommends Safe Drug Sites, Among Other Things

What the hell’s a CHEL?

This morning the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force submitted to the executives of Seattle, Renton, Auburn and King County their 99 page report on how to deal with the staggering rise of opioid addiction and related deaths in recent years. We’ve previously written about the spike in heroin and prescription pills like oxycontin, and the human consequences. This task force included representatives from nearly 40 organizations ranging from the county sheriff to State Healthcare Authority to King County Needle Exchange and Public Defenders Association.

The report has three main recommendations. Spoiler: safe drug sites where users can consume under medical supervision without fear of arrest is one of them, but we’ll get to that.

First, the report recommends raising public awareness about the risks of opioid use, promoting safe storage and disposal of medications, and screening for opioid use disorder (aka addiction) in schools and clinics. Second, the report calls for easy access to buprenorphine (aka suboxone, a medication for weaning addicts off of opioids), treatment on demand for all drug addiction, and lower barriers for opioid treatment programs. Third, it says we should expand distribution of naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses, and — drumroll please — establish safe drug sites.

Here’s how they phrase that last part in the executive summary:

“Establish, on a pilot program basis, at least two Community Health Engagement Locations (CHEL sites) where supervised consumption [of drugs] occurs for adults with substance use disorders.” They say one of the sites should be outside Seattle.

The task force will present its findings to the executives who convened it at 10 a.m. this morning at Harborview Medical Center.

UPDATE. At a press conference following the formal presentation of recommendations, task force conveners King County executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said that they support the CHEL recommendation in principle but, having just received the report, don’t yet have specifics on when, where or how to install them. The mayors of Renton and Auburn, also conveners, said that they support expanded treatment but aren’t willing to host CHEL sites in their own cities anytime soon.

The goal, said Constantine, is “Making sure that treatment providers are there…as much as the drug dealers are.

“If [CHELs are] a strategy that saves lives, if there are people that are going to die if we don’t do this, then it is something that we have to move foreward with in a really deliberate way,” he said, adding that leaders need to work to mitigate any second-hand harms the CHELs may bring.

Murray said that “I believe we should have these [CHEL] sites,” but emphasized that expanding access to treatment for addicts is paramount. “Nothing works, no site works, if we don’t have treatment,” he said.

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