With heroin use approaching epidemic proportions in the United States, a Seattle task force has a unique solution to the problem of illicit drug use: provide medical supervision to addicts who use illegal drugs.
If successful, the pilot project would be the first such program in the United States. Similar facilities have operated in Vancouver, B.C., for 13 years. The 32-person King County task force includes members who are health and treatment providers, members of law enforcement, and employees from social-service agencies, cities and the University of Washington.
Users would be allowed to take drugs without fear of being arrested at the sites, called safe consumption facilities. Drugs would not be supplied, but users would be given clean needles and syringes, and permitted to inject heroin, smoke crack cocaine and take other addictive drugs.
Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive opioid drug. Heroin use has been increasing in recent years among men and women, in most age groups, and among all income levels, in particular, among young adults between 18 and 25 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As heroin use has increased, so have overdoses. Between 2002 and 2014, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths quadrupled. Nationwide, more than 10,500 people died in 2014.
In King County, 132 people died of heroin-involved deaths. In 2014, 156 people died and 99 died in 2013.
People often use heroin along with other drugs or alcohol. This combination is especially dangerous because it increases the risk of overdose. A heroin overdose can cause slow and shallow breathing, coma and death. Nearly everyone who uses heroin also uses at least one other drug, according to the CDC. Heroin is typically injected but is also can be smoked and snorted. When people inject heroin, they are at risk of serious, long-term viral infections such as HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B, as well as bacterial infections of the skin, bloodstream and heart.
The task force anticipates opening two locations, including one site in Seattle and another outside of the city where a high number of heroin overdoses have occurred.
In addition to safe drug use locations, the task force is recommending expansion of drug treatment and prevention programs; elimination of the cap on the number of patients treated at methadone clinics; and increased access to Naloxone, which can block or reverse the effects of opioid medications, thereby preventing a fatal overdose.
Simple possession of heroin is a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, or a fine of up to $10,000, or both. There is also a drug diversion program for first-time offenders.
No matter the crime or the circumstances, everyone is entitled to the best defense available. If you have been arrested and face criminal charges, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.
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