SEATTLE — Data presented to the Seattle City Council Tuesday morning suggests most drug users want to reduce or stop their drug habit.
The study by the REACH team, which provides outreach to the homeless in Seattle, suggests 65% of drug users expressed a desire to reduce their usage. The study also claims that 66% of people experiencing homelessness in the city who were surveyed said their drug use increased because of their homelessness.
"What’s really important is we do right by those people, we keep them alive, and we mitigate the harm’s that an extremely toxic drug supply is causing. We want to move people from wherever they’re at along to positive changes in their life," Public Health - Seattle & King County Strategic Advisor Brad Finegood told the city council's public safety and human services committee.
According to health department data, the number of people who are homeless and died from overdoses increased by 155% between 2021 and 2022. So far in 2023, 108 people who the health department identified as homeless have died from an overdose.
More than 1,000 people died from overdose in King County in 2022, with fentanyl accounting for 712 of those deaths, according to the health department.
The city is using funds from state settlements with drug companies related to the opioid epidemic to fund outreach and treatment services.
Those services include fentanyl test strips, clean syringes, naloxone kits, and overdose education.
Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson questioned the panel on some of the "harm reduction" measures, including giving drug users supplies to do drugs.
“So you would track people who receive smoking supplies and go into treatment, so that would be a measure of success of that investment?" Nelson asked the panel of service providers at Tuesday's meeting.
In response to Nelson's question, Amber Tejada of the Hepatitis Education Project said service providers respect what she described as the bodily autonomy of drug users.
“I know it can be a little controversial," Tejada said. "But one of the principals of harm reduction is we want to champion autonomy of people who use drugs. There are folks who don’t want to stop using drugs, there are people for whom abstinence is not a measure of success in their life. Abstinence is great if that’s something you have planned for you, but sometimes people are just going to use drugs and it’s not going to lead to abstinence."