Seattle Proposes Supervised, Arrest Exempt ‘Safe Spaces’ For Heroin Addicts To Use

In 2014, a Pew Research Center study revealed something perhaps viewed as impossible 10 years ago. Two-thirds of Americans felt that people shouldn’t be prosecuted for possession of heroin and cocaine. That trend has only spread, with even some police departments proposing radical new drug reforms. Seattle just raised the bar, however, and proposes safe spaces for addicts to use, and even get help.

City officials across the country are finding “radical” ideas like safe spaces more mainstream. Simply put, the body count of America’s opioid epidemic is ungodly staggering. In Gloucester, Massachusetts, for example, police experimented with not sending addicts to jail. Instead, addicts are offered option to seek rehabilitation through it’s Angel Program. Police impured  users to go to the station to undergo transfer to rehab, under the supervision of an ‘angel’ volunteer to guide them through the process.

Four fatal overdoes in four months ultimately compelled Gloucester’s desperation move. Seattle isn’t much better off, and can’t arrest its way out. “Regardless of the political discomfort”, says King County Executive Dow Constantine, VICE reports, “I think it is something we have to move forward with.” “If this is a strategy that saves lives”, then Constantine feels it’s worth a shot.

Seattle came to terms with the need for safe spaces after a heroin task force conducted a damning city-wide review. In 99 pages, the task force outlined various public benefits to safe spaces, examining successes internationally. According to VICE, Seattle’s public officials all agree with the plan, including the city’s mayor.

Although it’s unknown exactly where Seattle will establish the facilities, there are idea’s. Some invision safe spaces operating in area’s where addicts could already access rehab, clean syringes, and basic health care. According to VICE, a Washington survey of addicts found 75% are interested in haulting or restricting their use. Unfortunately, only 14% were being treated in a city that suffered 132 overdose deaths last year.

Lindsay LaSelle, senior staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance, finds Seattle’s decision “thrilling.” “The support of someone like a mayor is pretty ground breaking.” According to VICE, although heroin will remain illegal inside the facilities, police won’t conduct arrests there. Despite wary law enforcement,  health providers can operate the facilities as a “public health emergency measure”, LaSelle says.

All around, safe spaces are the best forseeable option for both addicts and the general public. Drug addiction–particularly with substances possessing debilitating withdrawl’s–isn’t going away. The justice system’s inclination to disappear addicts within its bowels is counter-productive. Not only do addicts sometimes die in jail but, if released, they’ll battle drug records. America’s justice system, as it currently operates, is incapable of remedying the public health issue of drug abuse.

Safe spaces provide users with reliable places to use, out of public view. An addict dosen’t need to use alone at home, nor on a sidewalk, alley, or wooded area. The facilities will be staffed with health care professionals equipped with anti-overdose drugs like naloxone, VICE reports.

Vancouver, Canada–mere hours north of Seattle–operates North America’s only “safe space” facility, called Insite. According to VICE, Insite has handled more than 3 million street heroin doses without a single fatal overdose since opening in 2003. That’s a consistent track record spanning more than a decade. What drug house in any neighborhood, let alone the one’s they normally pop up in, can boast success like that?

These facilities also have the potenital to handle health issues outside the actual abuse of drugs. Insite also helped reverse what was called the worst outbreak of HIV outside sub-sehrrian Africa. While overall fatal overdoses have dropped by 10% in Brittish Columbia, HIV rates are some of the lowest in Canada.

Parallel projects have popped up elsewhere in America, such as Boston and New York. In Boston, Lifezette reports, spaces where addicts can come down from their highs have also been proposed. Not everyone is on board, however, clinging to enduring feelings that these measures will encourage drug use. Some despise the idea of their tax dollars going towards ‘enabling’ an anonymous drug addict.

This, however, tends to be the same crowd which fought against cannabis reform on the grounds that crime would go up. Colorado’s reality shows crime rates are down as well cannabis use amongst teens. Cartels south of the border and other criminal organizations are getting bankrupt by just a few states legalizing. Imagine what would happen if cannabis was normalized, fully reform, accessible and legal in America.

What has gone up, however, is opioid use and overdose–which is where safe spaces should come in. It wasn’t so long ago that cannabis reform was considered a laughing matter. It’s reality now, and it works. Drug reform works.

Those reforms don’t just apply to the herb, and are critical in improving key facets of our society. A toe must be dipped in the water before one jumps in. Safe spaces may be the prerequisite step, or two, required before emerging into a world ripe with sensible, proven, scare tactic-free drug policy.

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Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a writer and freelance journalist native to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing can be found on Cop Block, The Pontiac Tribune, and The Fifth Column News. Video's produced by Isiah are published under the tag YungCartographer Productions.