Mock supervised consumption space to visit Seattle: highlights the need for public health approaches to opiate epidemic

SEATTLE, WA – Local public health advocates are hosting the “SAFE SHAPE” exhibit, a mock supervised consumption space (SCS), to highlight how this type of approach could combat the opiate epidemic and decrease public drug use. Alongside the mock supervised consumption space will be the Know Us art exhibit, featuring photographs and portraits exploring living and dying with substance use.

The SAFE SHAPE exhibit is a pop-up traveling exhibit in the form of a pavilion that operates as a mock drug consumption room, also known as a supervised consumption space. An SCS is a place where people who consume drugs can self-administer pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of healthcare professionals or other staff. These facilities are common in other parts of the world and have been shown to improve community health and safety by reducing overdose deaths, public drug use, and discarded needles in the streets. Opening an SCS is among the considerations currently being looked at by the joint City and County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Overdose Task Force. The King County area, like many other parts of the U.S., is currently experiencing high rates of opiate abuse and overdose deaths.

Greg Scott, a public health sociologist and filmmaker at DePaul University in Chicago who designed the exhibit in collaboration with architect-designer Andrew Santa Lucia, explains:

“The SAFE SHAPE exhibit was constructed to project an image of reason, science, and rationality. This exhibit demystifies the whole idea of supervised consumption by placing it within a space that is designed on the principles of accessibility, empathy, and beauty. Ultimately the supervised consumption space is an incremental step in the direction of providing more humane, scientifically proven, cost-effective health care and social assistance to people who use substances.”

SAFE SHAPE is interactive, meant for visitors to experience not only what supervised consumption spaces can be but also to feel the humanizing effects of compassionate design. Every visitor will experience directly the stark contrast between public drug use and the kind of multifaceted, health-promoting experience that can happen in a supervised consumption space. Our hope is that visitors will walk away from the exhibit feeling even more supportive of the SCS as a public health measure and perhaps a little more critical of the commonly accepted, highly stigmatizing view that people who use drugs don’t deserve the same standard of care that we as a society have come to expect."

SAFE SHAPE’s floor plan builds upon the various arrangements of space found in the many SCSs operating across the world. Upon entering, the visitor encounters a greeting area and supplies station. From there the visitor is routed to the injection station, where SCS clients can engage in supervised and hygienic injections of pre-obtained drugs. The final stop is the “chill room,” where SCS clients can relax in a low-stress space and also access information on housing, employment, drug treatment, and so forth.

"The reality is that people do use drugs, however much their loved ones and their neighbors may wish they didn't. Safe consumption spaces will allow us to deal with that reality in a way that works better for neighborhoods, reduces unnecessary use of our justice system, keeps people healthy, and starts many people on the long and bumpy road to sobriety or to using less harmfully and less frequently," states Lisa Daugaard, Director, Public Defender Association.

Ashley Hempelmann, a Voices of Community Activists and Leaders – Washington (VOCAL-WA) member says, “If there was a safe consumption site available when I was in the midst of my addiction to heroin, I think that I wouldn’t have had to reuse dirty and dull needles, most certainly wouldn’t have contracted Hep C, and quite possibly would have gone to treatment sooner. People are just starting to wake up to the idea that addiction is not a moral failing. This is a public health issue and we really hope that the SAFE SHAPE exhibit helps people understand the importance of harm reduction and supervised consumption sites.”

“Every day DESC sees chronically homeless people with addictions resorting to unsafe and unsanitary conditions when using substances. This drives people away from help and puts them at greater risk of death or other serious problems. We are eager to explore better solutions," says Daniel Malone, Executive Director of Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC).

“It’s vital that public health interventions are used to address the region’s opiate epidemic instead of solely relying on the criminal justice system. Supervised consumption spaces are a proven example of a public health approach and should be seriously considered for use in King County,” said Mark Cooke from the ACLU of Washington.

The exhibit will be on display in area parks from July 14 – 19, as well as at an evening event at the 12th Ave Arts on July 19 featuring a screening of the documentary Everywhere But Safe and a panel discussion with Greg Scott and others. At the exhibit, members of the public will be able to walk through the mock consumption space.

Exhibit Schedule:
Thursday, July 14 @ Westlake Park (12:00pm - 7:00pm)
Friday, July 15 @ Victor Steinbrueck Park (12:00pm - 7:00pm)
Saturday, July 16 @ Belltown Street Park (12:00pm – 7:00pm)
Sunday, July 17 @ Rainy Day Records (5th and Franklin, OLYMPIA) (12:00 – 6:00pm)
Monday, July 18 @ Cal Anderson Park (12:00pm - 7:00pm)
Tuesday, July 19 @ City Hall Park (Located at 3rd and Yesler next to King County Courthouse)
(12:00pm - 2:00pm)
Tuesday, July 19 @ 12th Ave Arts [with film screening and panel discussion] (6:00pm – 9:00pm)