Heroin task force issues recommendations, including opening heroin shoot-up sites


SEATTLE - A local task force created to come up with ways to combat the region’s heroin epidemic has released a list of proposals, including opening the nation’s first two safe IV drug injection sites.

The heroin and opiate task force made a list of recommendations which include treatment, prevention, getting users better access to life-saving medications as well as opening the two safe injection locations.

One injection site would be in Seattle and the other would be in another part of King County, a task force member said. While there is no other heroin safe site in the U.S., one has been in existence in Vancouver, B.C. for more than a dozen years.

“Right now people are using drugs and in some cases overdosing in their homes but not only in their homes but in public in the doorway, in the alley way in the park,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray envision the injection safe house being a part of a medical facility.

How police and prosecutors would view these safe hours is unclear – at this point they have given support to the plan.

“We can’t arrest our way out of any of society’s problems which means we have to look at other solutions,” King County Sheriff John Urquhart said Thursday. “It’s a totally different era of policing not only for marijuana, Narcan (Naloxone) and now possible safe injection sites but when you look at the mental health aspect of policing.”

In the basement of a meeting room at Harborview Medical Center, the task force – politicians, treatment providers, public defenders, prosecutors and police¬- also talked about their push to find immediate treatment solutions for heroin and opioid users who are ready to change.

Shilo Murphy, Executive Director of the People’s Harm Alliance, a needle exchange program with sites in Seattle and Portland, said the people offering users help need to move quickly.

Murphy questioned "if you’re faced with I can buy a $10 bag of heroin and get well or get high for the whole day and it takes me nine steps and three months to get in treatment where do you think people will go?"

He added ,“we need to be direct competition to drug dealers. It needs to be just that easy to get into treatment and services.”

Panel members said police, firefighters, jails, homeless shelters and treatment providers also larger quantities of Naloxone, an opioid reversal medication, at their disposal. Drug users also need to have better access to Buprenorphine, an addiction treatment drug.

“We’ve created many solutions that could be game changers and end overdose and thousands of people access to treatment that they don’t have today,” Murphy said.

How the task force recommendations would be paid for remains unclear. Murray and Constantine mentioned seeking state and federal money.

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