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A Ceasefire in the War on Drugs


Originally Published: 09/29/2016

Post Date: 09/30/2016

Source Publication: Click here

by Trevor McAllister - Day The Daily


This month, a King County committee on heroin proposed opening safe injection sites for heroin and opiate users. 


The Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force proposed two locations, one in Seattle and one outside of the city. 

Their recommendations address the regional and national heroin epidemic, where almost 80 people die every day from heroin and painkiller overdoses. Locally, enrollments in the public treatment system for heroin use doubled to 2,886 between 2010 and 2014 in King County.

Opening safe injection sites is a good start to alleviating both the heroin problem and the city’s state of emergency over homelessness.

There are two reasons safe injection sites are absolutely a good idea, despite the initial distaste that comes with allowing people to do something so harmful to themselves.

The first is compassion. Seattle and the county should be helping to support the most vulnerable members of society, not leaving them to die quietly or fall under the radar.

Just over the border, Vancouver has addressed this same issue with a safe injection site called Insite. Since 2003, Insite has never recorded a fatality, even with more than 700 daily visits. 

Public health issues like the heroin and homelessness epidemics are ended by massive public undertakings, not one-by-one.

By no means should we discontinue sparing some change or volunteering with a shelter or soup kitchen, but drops in the bucket will never solve these problems. Change needs to be systematic, and the government should take a leading role.

It’s easy to be dismissive of the government’s ability to do anything, but this sort of change would be hard to come from the people. Protesters marching on Olympia, demanding safe drug sites would be laughed out of town.

So in this respect, its noteworthy our government has taken steps to care for its people, even if it might seem an unpopular push at first.

Shifting perspectives and ending stigma around drug use won’t come quickly, but it will come. In British Columbia, Insite enjoys support from 76 percent of Vancouverites. Even a full half of Conservatives support its existence.

A second reason to support safe-usage sites is they also save money. Here in Seattle, 1811 Eastlake Avenue is a dormitory where chronic alcoholics can choose to drink or seek treatment in-house. A 2009 study showed it has saved the city $4 million dollars, which otherwise would have been spent on housing or crisis services for its participants.

Not only did 1811 save money, it reduced drinking habits by a third, according to a 2012 UW study. 

A heroin-use site in the same vein could save health and emergency services money on responses and overdose care, freeing them up to address other issues and reducing burdens on the prosecutorial and penitentiary systems.

This is a good decision the county has made, and hopefully this is the start of substantial change for the area’s poorest citizens.