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Seattle group looking to create ‘safe rooms’ for drug users to shoot up

SEATTLE -- A safe place for drug users to get high is coming to Seattle and it could be the first of its kind in the country.

The People’s Harm Reduction Alliance (PHRA) is behind the project and says the ‘safe rooms’ will eventually help drug users in the long run.

“I think it will be a failure if we don’t do anything because people are dying today,” said Shilo Murphy, the director of PHRA.

In many neighborhoods, the signs of drug use are evident, but one group is trying to change how drug users get high.

“It has two main focuses, one is overdose prevention which is a huge issue for opiate users and the other thing is to get drug users off the streets,” said Murphy.

The PHRA is behind the mobile safe places that will allow users to shoot up, but at the same time provide them with clean needles, and testing for hepatitis and HIV.

“We’ll have nurses and medical staff there to assist,” added Murphy.

The consumption rooms will also point users to treatment if they want it.

“No one wants people to use drugs in alleys. Drug users don’t want to be using in the alleys, so let's bring them into a safe place where we can link them to treatment and link them to testing and link them to room care facilities,” said Murphy.

The consumption rooms would be small storage containers with several small tables and chairs.

The containers would be placed in areas where drugs are a problem.

One location being considered is in the University District.

“My first reaction was, you’re kidding me, but the more you think about it, it makes more sense,” said Jill Manasco, who works in the U District.

PHRA says it is liable if anything goes wrong at the safe rooms, but some say giving users a place to do drugs is only encouraging them.

“At this point I don’t think it’s going to encourage because the problem is so deep-rooted already,” said a former drug user who likes the idea of a safe room.

Dr. Richard Repass is a psychiatrist at Schick Shadel Hospital, a treatment center, and he worries these ‘safe places’ could only encourage curious young people to try drugs.

“We’re also going to allow people to have an easier time using them, and children like teens who really don’t know better may take advantage of this just like getting into a bar underage. It’s an earlier way of getting into this without thinking and without having info, the tools they need to make a proper way to make decision."

Repass says it will have an impact on some illnesses and helping getting access to care.

“This could contain it but also potentially increase it, I think that’s the issue, so it’s really where is the benefit?” added Repass.

Funding for the safe rooms will comes from donations and grants.

The group is hoping to have the first few safe rooms open by June and they’re focusing on Capitol Hill, downtown, and University District.