Dr. Joel Kaufman, interim dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health, recently endorsed the King County Heroin and Opioid Addiction Task Force recommendations, including the development of so-called safe injection sites to reduce overdose deaths.
[Photo: Dr. Joel Kaufman]
The task force, chaired by Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer at Public Health – Seattle & King County and adjunct professor of epidemiology at the School, issued its final report in September 2016.
“The report provides clear documentation of the expanding tragedy that is heroin and opioid use and overdose in King County,” Dr. Kaufman wrote in a letter to the county’s Board of Health. “While this is a national crisis, in King County alone, more than 200 people lost their lives in 2015 to heroin or prescription opioid abuse – creating a serious public health issue that cuts across most age groups and all income levels.”
The county’s Board of Health voted unanimously on Jan. 19 to endorse the task force’s recommendations, which go beyond the safe-injection sites, calling for expanding and enhancing treatment programs, prevention efforts and access to naloxone. Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, affiliate associate professor of health services, is a member of the task force.
“It is my opinion that each of these types of action is important and necessary to stem the tide of addiction, as well as to engage those already addicted — for whom creative approaches are critically needed,” Dr. Kaufman wrote.
Dr. Kaufman, who also spoke in person before the board, noted that the establishment of two Community Health Engagement Locations, where supervised consumption can occur with access to medical supervision, “is a bold and innovative strategy.” He pointed out “similar sites suggest these programs can be effective in reducing overdose deaths, while improving other health behaviors, potentially providing an entry to treatment programs, and with minimal adverse effects to the nearby community.” The approach is promising and developed enough, he added, that it should be piloted and evaluated.
Ms. Courtney Large, an undergraduate student in the School’s Public Health Major and a volunteer at a Seattle needle exchange, also spoke in the public comment period before the board’s vote. “We give people clean needles and then send them into alleyways to overdose,” Ms. Large said.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine are expected to weigh in with a decision on the task force’s recommendations in the next several weeks.