Shayne Williams is executive director of Lookout Emergency Aid Society, a safe-consumption site in New Westminster, British Columbia. Photo by Amy Reid/Surrey Now Leader

With an Eye on Seattle, Medical Associations Get Behind Safe Drug Sites

They’re not even built yet, and our pilot safe drug sites are already having national repercussions.

Seattle and King County have helped persuade the American Medical Association to endorse safe drug sites, in a roundabout way.

On Tuesday, the AMA voted to endorse pilot supervised drug consumption sites as part of a larger public health response to the rise in opioid use and overdose deaths during the past two decades.

“Studies from other countries have shown that supervised injection facilities reduce the number of overdose deaths, reduce transmission rates of infectious disease, and increase the number of individuals initiating treatment for substance use disorders without increasing drug trafficking or crime in the areas where the facilities are located,” reads an AMA press release.

Also called safe drug sites, supervised injection facilities (SIFs), or community health engagement locations (CHELs), the sites allow consumption of illicit drugs under medical supervision, with staff for drug treatment and other services on-call to any user who accepts them. Some are injection-only, while others allow smoking and other methods of ingestion. Seattle and King County each plan to implement a pilot safe drug site based on a series of recommendations from an opioid response task force.

Among the most influential sources of evidence underlying the AMA’s vote was a report released in April by the Massachusetts Medical Society which concluded that “rigorous” evidence shows that safe drug sites “achieve positive outcomes” including fewer lethal drug overdoses. The report also found evidence suggesting safe drug sites lead to more access to drug treatment, less spread of bloodborne diseases, less drug-related litter, and fewer complaints about public drug use and no increase in crime in surrounding areas. Because there are no current above-ground safe drug sites in operation in the United States, most of the evidence on their efficacy comes from studies of sites in other countries, including InSite in Vancouver, B.C.

But the Massachusetts report also considered the political realities of trying to implement such sites, even on a pilot basis—and that’s where Seattle and King County come in. The MMS report cites Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco’s attempts to create pilot sites as evidence that there is currently an “opportunity” to turn safe drug sites into a political reality: “In September 2016, King County (Seattle, Washington area) Task Force on Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction, convened by the mayor of Seattle, recommended two SIFs open in Seattle and just outside the city. The sheriff of Seattle [sic] supports the recommendation” (King County Sheriff John Urquhart and Seattle Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole both support the sites).

“A growing number of U.S. cities are exploring SIFs to address the growing opioid crises in their cities and communities,” the report adds, before urging the Massachusetts legislature to follow suite.

Dr. Jeff Duchin of Seattle/King County Public Health, who co-chaired the opioid task force, responded to the AMA endorsement. “The endorsement by the American Medical Association to establish and evaluate supervised injection facilities acknowledges the recommendation by our local Task Force,” he said, according to a press release. “The available evidence shows these sites should be included, along with treatment expansion and other prevention measures, as a strategy to combat the epidemic of heroin and opiate drug addiction and overdose deaths in Seattle & King County.”

Seattle and King County are currently deciding where to locate their pilot safe drug sites. However, there is no timeline for completion.

There is also an effort to block the sites from opening. In May, a group calling itself Citizens for a Safe King County began collecting signatures for an initiative to ban such sites in the county. As of last week the group said they had about half the signatures they needed to make the ballot.

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

More in News & Comment

King County approves low-income Metro fare waivers

Low-income transit riders could see their King County Metro fares waived beginning… Continue reading

Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht gave a response to an Office of Law Enforcement Oversight report on Feb. 25 before the King County Law and Justice Committee. The report recommended ways her department could reform use of force policy and internal investigations. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Council unsatisfied with Sheriff’s response to use of deadly force report

The King County Sheriff’s Office could be required to explain why it didn’t implement recommendations.

King County Council has nine members who each represent a district. Courtesy of kingcounty.gov
Charter amendments could allow King County Council to remove elected officials

The change was recommended by the charter review commission.

Voters could vote to affirm subpoena powers for civilian KCSO oversight agency

The King County charter review commission recommended enshrining the power in the charter.

Investigators release video of Federal Way police fatally shooting black man following public outcry

Civil rights advocates call out forceful policing that has targeted young people of color in South King County.

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Democratic lawmakers roll out spending plans for climate change, homelessness

Republican opposition calls for tax relief, rather than spending the increased revenue.

Fentanyl (Courtesy photo)
Fentanyl overdoses keep increasing in King County

Meth overdoses are on the rise as well, continuing a trend reported on last year.

Charter review could overhaul King County Sheriff’s Office

Several changes to the King County Sheriff’s Office were proposed.

PNW plant-based foods could help in climate fight

Animal products create a lot of emissions, but veggie alternatives are coming from King County.

Most Read