April 9, 2016 – Can Seattle beat its Heroin Addiction problem?

Seattle’s growing homelessness problem has been linked to an increase in heroin use, which has been labeled a regional epidemic. In response, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a Heroin and Prescription Opiate Taskforce with a broad mission and experienced membership. The Taskforce will look at ways of expanding treatment capacity, increasing access to evidence-based treatment options, expanding prevention efforts, increasing public awareness and understanding of addiction, and exploring options for providing treatment on demand.

It has been said that in Seattle today it is cheaper to get a high on heroin than it is to purchase a rotisserie chicken.

It’s clear that there that there are many hundreds of the people living on the streets and in unauthorized tent encampments who are struggling with addiction. Admissions for heroin detox now exceed that of alcohol. And in 2014, overdoses from heroin in King County reached a 20 year high. Overdoses are now the leading cause of death for the homeless.

Along with a backlog for deeply affordable housing, we now have a growing waiting list for publicly funded methadone treatment, with hospital emergency rooms and county jails currently serving as the most expensive and least effective treatment options available.

Neighborhoods are feeling the brunt of this problem, and the issue has become divisive as the City and County struggle to deal with it. Some believe the problem is centered on people living in their vehicles. And encampments, such as “The Jungle”, have become flashpoints for both issues of homeless encampments and unfettered illegal drug use.

As a means to help mitigate the impacts of uncontrolled use and the possibility of overdose, the use of shooting galleriessafe injection sites – has been proposed. There is strong evidence that these are effective in reducing deaths and diverting addicts into treatment programs, as well as reducing the effects of broader use in the community (waste paraphernalia, illegal drug-centered squats).

Could safe injection sites in Seattle’s neighborhoods be a way to help counterbalance the more negative impacts of the heroin epidemic? Will the Taskforce help identify solutions to the problem, and, more importantly, can the City and the County fully fund the services and solutions identified by the Taskforce that are necessary to help meet the needs of these vulnerable people.

Joining us this week to explore the issue and possible solutions will be:

  • Brad Finegood, Assistant Director of King County’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Division. Brad is co-chair of the King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Heroin and Prescription Opiate Taskforce.  Brad has a Master’s in Counseling with a specialty in Addictions, has worked in all areas of substance use treatment, and is licensed as a Mental Health Counselor.
  • Tim Durkan, who has closely observed the homeless and addict community in Seattle (and currently has a photography show on the issue at SPACE art gallery in Magnuson Park on the subject).
  • Shiloh Murphy, founder and Executive Director of the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance, and member of the Taskforce.   PHRA works under the philosophy of harm reduction and works to educate the community about safer drug use and fight the spread of infectious disease. They are peer-run (meaning they have active users in all levels of their organization) and gave operated a need-based needle distribution program serving the region since 2007. Shiloh is a former homeless person and long-time resident of Seattle. He has worked at the University District needle exchange program for the past 20 years and is also a co-founder of the Urban Survivors Union, a drug users’ union.

Please join us on Saturday, April 9 at 9am for what should prove to be a informative and lively discussion.

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