Seattle Soon to Get America's First Safe Injection Site

After a series of failed attempts, the city of Seattle in King County, Washington will finally get America's first supervised injection facility (SIF). An official timeline for setting up the site is still awaited. However, officials from the King County health department are confident that the first-of-its-kind initiative in the country will be a big success once completed.

"If you think people are just weak-willed, it might seem strange... When you realize this is a chronic disease and you're engaging them in treatments, it makes more sense," said Jeff Duchin, a health officer for King County.

Seattle and King County officials had given nod to establish an SIF in early 2017. However, the project could not take off as an opposition group gathered enough signatures to take the decision to the ballot. Then the fight over the issue finally reached the court. However, in late 2017, a King County Superior Court judge dismissed the opposition group's petition, calling it an infringement on the decision-making capacity of the County Board of Health.

While Seattle is set to become the first city in the U.S. to have an SIF, it is not only one to have tried for it. Several states and cities, including Colorado, Delaware and Philadelphia, have considered opening an SIF as a measure to address the opioid crisis that is ravaging the entire country. The Colorado General Assembly is expected to raise the issue during the January 2018 session. In November 2017, Denver City Council President Albus Brooks had visited an SIF in Vancouver to see how it works. In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney has already expressed his interest in the idea.

The similar efforts are underway in California. Though a bill to allow a safe injection site for people with addiction failed here in September 2017, assemblywoman Susan Eggman is committed to propose it again in 2018. At one time, Boston appeared to have become the first U.S. city to establish an SIF. However, the city lost the idea to a contentious public hearing in September 2017.

The idea of having safe injection sites for people doing drugs is also receiving tough opposition from the Trump administration. Though cities do not require the government approval to establish their own SIFs, they want to avoid a direct collision with the federal administration. According to Leana Wen, health commissioner of Baltimore city, the health department receives a major chunk of its funds from the federal government. In such a scenario, it would be a tricky situation to introduce SIFs, she says.

Can SIFs deal with opioid-related problems?

An evidence-based measure to help people battling substance abuse, SIF is a place that allows people with addiction safely use illegal drugs under the supervision of a medical professional and clean paraphernalia provided by the local administration. Also present at these sites are people who help the users get access to drugs and mental health treatment and housing support.

Studies have highlighted SIFs' role in reducing overdose deaths, discouraging more drug use and giving users a path to treatment. A study, published in the Harm Reduction Journal in May 2017, regarded SIF as an extremely cost-effective measure to bring significant reduction in drug overdose-related problems as well as in HIV infections and Hepatitis C infections.

Treating substance abuse

Any addiction treatment typically begins with detoxification that prepares a patient for withdrawal symptoms and subsequent procedure. Detox is generally followed by medications and behavioral treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). If a person is grappling with addiction to any drug, he/she should immediately seek professional assistance.