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King County In Seattle Wants To Open Legal Heroin Clinics To Combat Epidemic


Officials in Seattle and the surrounding areas are considering a controversial proposal to tackle heroin addiction there. A task force has recommended opening clinics where people can take the drug legally and under medical supervision. Dr. Jeff Duchin is the health officer for King County in Washington state, and he joins us on the line.

Welcome to the program.

JEFF DUCHIN: Good morning.

MARTIN: How would this work?

DUCHIN: This particular feature, what we're calling safe consumption sites or community health engagement locations, where users can come and use their heroin or their opioid drug under supervision of a medical professional - in a nutshell, the idea is not really to give people a place to inject drugs and then go about their lives but really a way that they can inject safely off the street, out of doorways, out of alleyways - hygienic conditions to minimize their risk of infection, such as HIV; to minimize their risk of overdose and to minimize the stigmatization and social rejection that keeps a lot of these people out of the health care system in the first place.

MARTIN: I understand a lot of the implementation of this will be worked out as you move forward with this proposal. But at this point, can you tell me if the clinics would provide the heroin or this is just a safe space for people to come in and use the drugs that they have on them?

DUCHIN: These locations would not provide any drugs. These locations would only provide health care providers that would give clean injection equipment so that people don't pass infections from one person to the next. There is no provision of drugs at all. It's just a safe space and a doorway to access other necessary health care.

MARTIN: So is the goal, then, to get these people off of heroin ultimately?

DUCHIN: Yeah, the goal is really access to treatment. So treatment is really the main bottom line that we're trying to promote as the most effective, you know, population-wide intervention. We want people getting in long-term treatment. And this is just one doorway that we can use to get people into treatment.

MARTIN: How do you make this legal? I mean, you can't, as it is now, just shoot up with heroin on the street. What makes it different being in your space?

DUCHIN: We are not making this legal. That is a misperception. We are going to give people with substance abuse disorders a safe, medically supervised place where they can use their drugs and not fear being arrested, beaten up or attacked...

MARTIN: That means you have to have support from law enforcement and the courts.

DUCHIN: Exactly. We have support from our local law enforcement community. And we're optimistic that this is going to work here. But ultimately, we cannot make this legal.

MARTIN: Dr. Jeff Duchin is the health officer for King County in Washington state.

Thanks so much for talking with us.

DUCHIN: Thanks very much for doing the story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.