Study: A Seattle Safer Consumption Site Would Save Money, as Well as Lives

Just one safer consumption space (SCS) for people who use drugs in Kings County, Washington would generate annual savings worth more than four times the amount of money needed to keep it running, reports a new study.

A single site in Seattle, where one-third of King County’s population lives and where half of the county’s overdose fatalities occur, is “projected to annually reverse 167 overdoses and prevent 6 overdose deaths, 45 hospitalizations, 90 emergency department visits, and 92 emergency medical service deployments,” according to the study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

The total monetary benefits from preventing these healthcare interactions, projects the study, would come out to the tune of $5.1 million. The authors estimate that the SCS would require $1.2 million per year to operate, with expenses mostly comprised of salaries for registered nurses and “education specialists.” These figures suggest that $4.22 would be generated for every dollar spent on operational costs.

The study represents welcome support for this harm reduction intervention in a city where proposed SCS have faced predictable political and legal opposition—and where, as Seattle resident and harm reductionist Shilo Jama reported for Filter, several different underground SCS models are already operating. It adds to an already-large body of evidence to support the efficacy of SCS, including the highly successful example of Insite in Vancouver—and most recently swelled by a report from the Massachusetts Commission on Harm Reduction, urging the introduction of SCS there. Cities like San Francisco and Philadelphia are also considering them.

Yet American politicians and officials continue to level high-profile attacks on SCS; Filter reported, for example, on a US attorney’s move to get a judge in Pennsylvania to declare a proposed SCS there illegal.

Back in August 2018, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took his anti-drug user rhetoric to the op-ed section of The New York Times, claiming that SCS would not save lives, and would instead make municipalities more dangerous.

Within his straightforward denouncement of SCS, Rosenstein leveled a subtler jab at their finances, pejoratively characterizing the facilities as “a taxpayer-sponsored haven to shoot up.” His implication that SCS would be a waste of money is refuted by the new study, among other examples.

And of course, while acknowledging the financial benefits of SCS, it’s important not to lose sight of their most important benefit of all: preventing death.


Photo by Jonathan Miske via Flickr

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