The sheriff in Seattle is looking to Vancouver for answers as the American city considers opening a supervised injection site.

It would be a first in the United States.

Canada has two legal supervised injection sites, both of which are in Vancouver. Advocates for supervised injection sites, who were instrumental in setting up Insite in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, are heading to Seattle this month to share ideas.

King County's sheriff says he is cautiously open to the idea. 

Sheriff John Urquhart

Sheriff John Urquhart says the war on drugs was an abject failure. (King County)

"I've got to wrap my mind around a place where you go to shoot up and you're not going to get arrested. And it's maybe promoted with tax dollars," said John Urquhart, sheriff of King County.

"It's going to be a tough sell."

He says law enforcement in the region has not accepted the idea.

"One thing that I found about police chiefs and sheriffs is they cry and moan and say what we're doing isn't working … and then they turn around and advocate for the status quo," he said.

"And I'm not willing to do that."

City officials are also considering setting up a supervised injection site in Victoria and Toronto, where the police union has already voiced its opposition.

Heroin addiction an 'epidemic'

Urquhart calls heroin addiction an "epidemic" in the United States and says desperate times have pushed him to consider radical solutions.

"The reason it's on our radar is because it's not just in back alleys anymore. It's not just junkies like we used to say," he said.

Urquhart worked as a narcotics detective for 25 years before becoming sheriff.

"I arrested people and I took them to jail … and guess what? It didn't make a difference. The war on drugs hasn't worked."

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Marc Townsend, manager of the Portland Hotel Society, enters Insite, one of two supervised injection sites for intravenous drug addicts in Vancouver. The society along with Vancouver Coastal Health Authority operates the site. (Richard Lam/Canadian Press)

Urquhart says in an ideal world, he would like to see more treatment centres in Washington — enough so that all addicts would have access to one.

"But society, especially in this country, is not able to provide that."

Since politicians are not willing to take that step, according to Urquhart, he is looking forward to hearing from Vancouver officials on how supervised injection sites could make for a temporary solution.

"That's the issue — how do we keep these people alive?"

With files from CBC Radio's The Early Edition


To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Seattle considers supervised injection site.