Officials in Seattle and King County, Washington, are working to find funding and locations to build two supervised injection facilities that will allow heroin addicts to shoot up without any fear of punishment and under the supervision of state-sponsored medical professionals. Once constructed, the facilities will be the first of their kind in the United States.
According to a report by Governing, the sites will also include HIV testing and other services many drug addicts are not currently receiving.
Jeff Duchin, health officer of public health for Seattle and King County, told Governing the effort is meant to help people transition out of addiction in a safe environment.
“This isn’t about enabling drug use,” Duchin said. “These are sick people, and they’re in danger of dying alone and outside. We want people to be able to be kept alive until they’re ready for treatment.”
Seattle already provides a needle-exchange program that allows heroin users to obtain clean needles to shoot up without fear of HIV and other diseases that are easily spread by sharing dirty needles. However, some with knowledge of that program say it doesn’t do enough to help many addicts, especially homeless addicts.
Prior to a vote by the King County Board of Health regarding the facilities in January, Courtney Large, a student at the University of Washington who volunteers at a Seattle needle exchange, said, along with many others at the hearing, supervised injection sites could save lives more effectively than the current needle-exchange program.
“We give people clean needles and then send them into alleyways to overdose,” Large said, according to a report by the Seattle Times.
The Seattle Times reports 132 people died in King County, which includes Seattle, in 2015. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 13,000 people died from a heroin overdose nationwide in 2015, a 20 percent increase compared to 2014.
Currently, there is only one supervised injection facility in North America, located in Vancouver, Canada. San Francisco is also reportedly weighing the possibility of building facilities that allow users to shoot up in a government-controlled environment.