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Addressing The Opioid Crisis: Seattle, King County Focus On Harm Reduction, Approve Creation Of Safe Injection Sites

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Will normalizing its use end drug abuse?

In an effort to address the disturbing epidemic of drug addiction, Mayor Ed Murray (Seattle) and County Executive Dow Constantine (King County) announced the approval for the first-ever safe injection sites for drug users in the country.

First Safe Injection Site In The United States

Safe injection sites or facilities, otherwise known as supervised drug consumption rooms, are legally sanctioned centers where addicts can use illicit drugs – including heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and other known opiates – intravenously in the presence of a trained medical staff who can swiftly respond in the event of an overdose.

By providing sterilized needles, safe injection facilities also reduce the risk of spreading highly infectious diseases, such as human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and hepatitis C.

Although a first in the United States, safe injection facilities have long been existing in European countries, with the first one opening in Switzerland way back in the 1980s. Currently, there are more or less 90 safe injection facilities scattered all over the world. Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Canada and Australia have them, too.

Not A Day Spa For Drug Use

Although a bold and brave move, not everyone is pleased with Seattle and King County's decision to give safe injection sites the green light. Critics believe that such sites promote drug use and will only worsen the state's existing predicament.

"The real goal is not to open a day spa where people can come in and have a good time and use drugs, but to engage them in treatment," Dr. Jeff Duchin, the health officer for Seattle and King County, explained.

Officials are hopeful that safe injection sites will slash the incidence of deaths from drug overdose, open drug addicts' minds about getting into long-term treatment and rehabilitation programs, and take drug abuse away from sidewalks and alleys. Brad Finegood, a task force member with the county Department of Community and Human Services, said over 600 used needles were found in Seattle's urban core in November.

Deaths From Drug Overdose In The United States

According to Dr. Duchin, drug overdose is a public health emergency, and novel tools need to be explored in order to effectively solve the issue.

Based on a report by the University of Washington, at least 132 people died from heroin overdoses alone in King County in 2015. The deaths shoot up to 209 when overdoses from prescription opioids are added.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control, on the other hand, show a heartbreaking record of 33,000 deaths from opioid overdoses across the country in 2015. Aside from illicit drugs, overdose from powerful prescription drugs and painkillers, such as fentanyl (a potent opioid analgesic up to 100 times stronger than morphine) was also cited.

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