King County handing out alcohol and cigarettes to homeless to keep them in quarantine

Alcohol and Cigarettes - Charles RoffeyFollow - Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In a Shoreline recovery facility, King County officials are giving COVID-19 patients beer and cigarettes as a means of harm reduction. According to the Communications Director at King County Dept. of Community and Human Services Sherry Hamilton, “Harm reduction strategies are proven practice for people in quarantine and withdrawal, helping them to stay safe and stable where they are for the duration of their treatment, and in doing so keep the community safer.” The recovery facility is available to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 but have no home to quarantine at. Among the patients at the Shoreline facility lies some with addiction issues and others who threaten to leave when physical withdrawals begin. To keep patients at the facility, county officials are convincing them with beer, cigarettes, and marijuana edibles. Recently, “County officials stopped offering pot because they said it doesn’t create the same debilitating detox effects as alcohol and nicotine,” According to Komo News.

Hamilton calls the method harm reduction; however, some think otherwise. “I’m all for helping anybody with the COVID. I’m not sure about doling out marijuana and cigarettes and beer,” said Brian Sorensen. “I just don’t understand the logic behind it,” said Zac M., who lives nearby. “There’s so many other things that he [Department Director Leonardo Flor] could be putting his money towards.”

Some support the harm reduction practice. “Keeping everyone safe, public health, the general health of all is a priority, and so this is informed by that. It seems like a good idea,” said Elise Murowchick. Allen Alston, who lives in the area, stated, “If you don’t deal with the alcohol addictions, you’re not dealing with the health crisis.”

King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski released the statement, “No taxpayer funds should be used for the acquisition and/or distribution of recreational marijuana, alcohol or tobacco at these emergency medical facilities.” He further noted that the field hospital has “been a great success story” in responding to the COVID-19 crisis with fast deployment and community support. Dembowski added, “We can’t lose the trust and confidence of our community in this work.”

Hamilton said that public funds are not used to purchase alcohol, tobacco or cannabis products. According to Hamilton, “It is for that reason, the department director used his own personal, non-government money to cover costs of the initial harm reduction supplies until a more sustainable source was identified.” Furthermore, “controlled quantities of alcohol and nicotine have been provided by the health and behavioral health clinicians on site as part of clinical management of withdrawal symptoms and harm reduction practices to support patients to safely stay in isolation.”

County officials at the facility will continue providing beer and cigarettes to keep patients quarantined safely.