The following are excerpts of what I wrote for mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston’s SCS policy:
We’ve known for a long time that the War on Drugs is actually a war on Black and Brown people—a costly one that’s been used as a reason to inflate police budgets from up here in Washington state down to my home state of Texas with little progress to show for it.
Regardless, those who live with addiction need help, not harm. More King County residents died of drug overdoses in 2020 than any other year in at least the last decade, yet we spend more money on putting people behind bars than we do in care to prevent these deaths in the first place. That’s immoral and fiscally irresponsible. We should be using funds to help people—not hurt them.
I believe it’s time to implement Safe Consumption Sites (SCSs), providing treatment for addiction, not criminalization.
A proven path to wellness
Safe Consumption Sites are places where those living with addiction can use drugs in a sterile, safe, and trained environment without the worry of death, fear of prosecution or judgement, and without the risk of laced drugs. People won’t have to hide in bathrooms, or inject with and discard unclean needles in public spaces.
Studies show safe consumption sites benefit female and LGBTQ+ drug users, especially when that intersects with race and visual poverty. Sites provide a temporary refuge from the risks of sexual abuse when using drugs around strangers, particularly men, or in public. Women and the queer community are frequently introduced to drugs by men which then creates a situation wherein they either rely on often abusive men to get high, or men use it as an opportunity for sexual violence. Often, these men also don’t know how to inject properly or safely, or will offer laced drugs without disclosing, leading to overdoses and other associated medical issues. In this way, safe consumption is harm reduction.
These sites help save hundreds of lives simply through sterile environments and monitored administration. This ensures that not only will those involved be trained professionals, but that drug use won’t be tied to abuse and can instead actively assist in weaning people off drugs.
A long time coming
In 2016, King County’s regional opioid task force recommended plans for two supervised consumption sites. Since then, opposition has stopped implementation: cities (Bellevue, Kent, Renton, Federal Way and Auburn) have banned locations, an anti-SCS ballot initiative was ultimately struck down by the courts, and threats of federal litigation have been raised to kill the idea. Seattle City Council proposed similar facilities as part of the budget since 2018 only for the mayor to deny it.
As for savings, the SCS pilot alone could reverse 167 overdoses annually and reduce costs associated with 45 hospitalizations, 90 emergency department visits, and 92 emergency medical service deployments, saving the City of Seattle $5,156,019 a year.
Holistic public safety and community care
Our sites could also use wrap-around services, like counseling. Treatment is necessary but not sufficient—and often not affordable or nearby. SCSs occupy a really important space where prevention has failed and treatment is not yet sought. A person dealing with addiction needs to be in a space where they can make healthier choices for themselves where they are; and until we are able to have Universal Healthcare in Washington state, we need to recognize that this is a health issue and act like it.
ReVision Zero means reducing ALL unnecessary deaths and will only happen when we provide care for those who need it most. That’s what Safe Consumption Sites will do.