In booming Seattle, street activist Shilo Murphy wants to have a van filled with heroin addicts, needles loaded and ready to fire, traveling neighborhood to neighborhood, with a nurse attendant aboard, reports the Los Angeles Times. The drug mobile would be the equivalent of a narcotics shooting gallery delivered to your doorstep. “It’s going to happen,” says Murphy, 40. “We’re in the design stage. Maybe in a few months we’ll be rolling.” On cluttered shelves and in boxes stacked around him are some of the tools of his trade: new meth pipes, alcohol swabs and needles, needles, needles, all to be handed out free and, in some cases, against state law. Murphy has 700,000 syringes. They’ll be gone in a few months, distributed by some of his 200 volunteers. By year’s end, the 25-year-old needle exchange program — largest in the U.S. — will have given out more than 4 million syringes to drug users, helping to protect them against HIV, hepatitis C and other needle-borne threats.
Making drug use safer has been the goal for the eight years Murphy has run the nonprofit People’s Harm Reduction Alliance, dedicated to lowering the risks of drug addiction and controlling the spread of disease. Murphy tried magic mushrooms at age 13 and eventually ended up with a heroin habit that put him on the streets and into a life of drugs. Inspired by Insite, a government-supported supervised drug facility in Vancouver, Canada, where addicts go to shoot up safely and obtain support services, Murphy and others plan to open a similar operation — the U.S.’ first safe, public injection site, but without government funding. They’re weighing the groundbreaking options of both stationary and mobile sites. King County Sheriff John Urquhart is eady to give it a try. “As long as there was strong, very strong, emphasis on education, services and recovery, I would say that yes, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks,” he said. “We will never make any headway in the war on drugs until we turn the war into a health issue.”