Seattle is on track to become the first place in the country where heroin addicts can legally shoot up at a supervised healthcare facility, hoping that the controversial move can reduce the number of overdose deaths and decrease the spread of disease through dirty needles.
An outgrowth of needle exchange programs found throughout the U.S., the two “supervised injection facilities” would assign drug users to a small cubicle where they could shoot up. Medical personnel monitor each person’s response to the drug and, if he or she overdoses, is immediately treated with an overdose-reversing medication such as naloxone.
The facilities are intended to bring users out from the alleys and into safe places where overdoses can be treated immediately and addicts can be encouraged to get into a treatment program. Ninety-one people a day die in the U.S. from an opioid overdose, including heroin and painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Seattle’s home of King County, that included 229 deaths in 2015.
Although the concept is new to the U.S., more than 90 such facilities exist in Europe, Australia and Canada. The Vancouver, British Columbia, facility saves between 1.9 and 11.7 lives annually by using drugs that reverse overdoses, according to a report.