Because it makes sense.
Because everyone deserves safe space.
Because they save lives.
Because they work.
Because health care matters.
Because I lost my daughter to a heroin overdose.
These are just a few of the responses VOCAL-WA received to the question, "Why do you support supervised consumption spaces?" Mine is the last.
My daughter Amber was just 19 when she died of an accidental heroin overdose. She was my only child. There are no words to describe the pain of spreading the ashes of one’s child. Amber was beautiful, funny, and smart. Her smile could light up Century Link field. At 19, she was still just starting her life. And the worst part of it is, her death was preventable.
After her death, I had a choice to make: either I join her or I share her story so other parents don't have to go through the unimaginable pain you didn't think is possible. I chose the latter. Every day, I choose the latter. After Amber’s death, her mother and I founded Amber’s H.O.P.E. to bring awareness and education to families in order to prevent future tragedies such as ours. We make sure to tell people that this is no mold or stereotype—anyone can struggle with substance use disorder. We encourage people to talk about drug use with their families, their friends, their children. We advocate shedding the stigma associated with substance use disorder. It simply cannot be a “taboo” topic. It is real life. Real people are dying. Every one of those people is someone’s child.
And that is why I support supervised consumption spaces. Everyone is someone’s child. Think about that for a moment. Think about the mother who gave birth—who once tenderly held—the person you may see using drugs in the alley behind your office. Think about the father who, years ago, changed that child’s diapers and rocked her to sleep. Think about how you would want someone to treat your child if it were them.
When Amber’s H.O.P.E. signed on the #YesToSCS coalition, we joined more than thirty other organizations speaking out in support of this life saving intervention. We joined with public health and human service providers, community groups, criminal justice reform organizations and many others in an effort to end the stigma, reduce the harm, and bring hope, help, and dignity to those who are living with substance use disorder. Supervised consumption spaces are a safe haven for those who need safety. The truth is, there is no “safe” drug use. There is only safer. Supervised consumption spaces are safer. They are better. Better than parks, better than alleys, better than bathrooms. Every time someone walks through the door, there is a chance to connect, to develop a relationship, to access greater and greater help. They aren’t the entire solution, but they an important part of the solution.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need SCSs. But as my family knows too well, we are not in an ideal world. Prevention doesn’t always work, treatment isn’t always available, and even when it is, people are not always ready to accept it. We need more and better prevention efforts to reduce the chances of anyone experiencing substance abuse disorder to begin with. We need treatment on demand to immediately connect those who want and are ready to treatment. We need supervised consumption spaces for everything in between. When prevention fails and treatment won’t yet work, we need a bridge to safety.
A supervised consumption space may not have saved my daughter. But it may save someone else’s. A year and a half after Amber’s death, I still cry every day, still ask “why her?” every day, and I still share her story every day. If it saves one life, I am willing to relive her death every day.
Michael Roberts lives in Redmond. His daughter Amber died in June of 2015.