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Seattle to open short-term recovery center for people after a fentanyl overdose

A person holds pieces of white pills in their hand
Jae C. Hong
A homeless addict holds pieces of fentanyl in Los Angeles, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022.

Seattle will open a new space for people to recover and receive treatment for nearly 24 hours after they have overdosed on fentanyl or other drugs, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced Thursday.

The center is slated to open near the Pioneer Square neighborhood in mid-2025 and will be run by a homelessness and substance abuse nonprofit organization called the Downtown Emergency Services Center.

In the first four months of this year, emergency services treated nearly 2,500 opioid overdoses across King County, which includes Seattle, KUOW reported. Over 200 deaths caused by opioid-related overdoses were recorded in that same period.

Opioid overdose deaths, which are caused by heroin, fentanyl and oxycodone, have increased dramatically in the city, state and across the U.S. In Portland, Oregon, elected leaders declared a state of emergency earlier this year over the public health and public safety crisis fueled by fentanyl.

Emergency responders in Seattle, once the center is open, will offer to take people there following an overdose and treatment with Narcan, a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of opioids.

A dose of Narcan can trigger intense withdrawal symptoms and can lead people to seek more fentanyl. City officials and service providers said the new space, called the Overdose Recovery and Care Access center, will offer a safe place to recuperate as well as services.

"The conditions we see on our streets because of fentanyl require every level of governance to step up in advancing urgent compassionate, loving and innovative solutions,” Harrell said.

People who go to the center can stay for up to 23 hours and will have access to medical care and treatment options from buprenorphine, which can ease withdrawal symptoms, to an initial round of methadone, the most commonly used treatment for opioid substance use. Officials estimate the site will serve 20 to 25 clients per day.

The Downtown Emergency Services Center will receive $5.65 million to open the center. Additionally, Evergreen Treatment Services will get $1.35 million to operate a mobile clinic, bringing medications to people where they are.

The money comes from a federal grant and is part of a $27 million investment pledged by Harrell’s administration to address the fentanyl crisis. Health workers and emergency responders said Thursday they expected interest in the center would be high, The Seattle Times reported.

Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, director of the University of Washington Center for Community-Engaged Drug Education, Epidemiology and Research, said he doesn’t anticipate anyone needing much convincing to go to the center. The feeling of withdrawal after receiving a Narcan dose is powerful enough that most people will seek help, he said.

“What we think is that if we offer a great place and word starts to spread, people will want to come here,” he said.

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