Turina James is a vivacious woman with a dry wit and a taste for truth-telling. “I’ve been the businesswoman who makes $60,000 a year, and I’ve been the person who’s sleeping in cubby holes downtown.”
After a youthful bout with heroin addiction, she was clean for 17 years. When her doctor gave her opioids after surgery, he didn’t tell her they put her at risk for returning to heroin.
While she was using, she got a couple of infections that ate away at the bones in her hand and her neck. She still lives with pain every day, but at least she isn’t blind or paralyzed – two of the possibilities the doctors mentioned before her emergency spinal surgery. Her neck bones were so fragile that when the surgeon touched her exposed vertebra it shattered.
It’s hard to get off heroin – there’s a 95 percent relapse rate without methadone or a similar medical opioid replacement therapy. But even though she wanted off, she didn’t believe in methadone.
“I thought it was stopping one drug for another, and that was wrong,” she said.
A clinic nurse helped her see addiction as a disease and methadone as a treatment for that disease. So she tried it and got clean six months ago.
Turina says, “Had I had a safe injection site to go to, I don’t believe that I would have been getting as much infection throughout my body as I did.” She also says she would have been able to get into treatment sooner.
There has been a 500 percent increase in deaths from heroin in the U.S. between 2001 and 2014. Seattle heroin overdose deaths increased 58 percent from 2013 to 2014. Safe consumption sites prevent overdose deaths.
Safe consumption sites exist in many countries in Europe and Canada, but nowhere in the U.S. — yet. Users bring in their substances and have access to sterile supplies for injecting under the supervision of a healthcare professional. No drug transfers can happen on the premises.
Users receive better health care and are more likely to enter treatment. Services are available there to help connect people facing addiction with the services they need, as well as providing community connection that can help overcome the low self-esteem that comes with being stigmatized for drug use. Public disorder decreases in the areas where safe consumption sites are located, and fewer needles are left in alleys.
On March 21, VOCAL-WA brought Liz Evans, founder of Vancouver, B.C.’s supervised drug injection site to present to the Seattle City Council Human Services & Public Health Committee. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw opened, citing the need to take bolder action with regard to opioid addiction and overdose prevention in the city.
“And one of our goals, of course, is to make sure that we have permanent housing for places for people to be, to have the services that they need,” Bagshaw said.
What you can do
Sign the online petition in support of safe consumption sites in Seattle. Go to bit.ly/safeconsumption and add your name.