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The Open Door Clinic

The Open Door Clinic[]

The Open Door Clinic was a free clinic that operated in Seattle's University District from 1967 to 1980. Usually referred to by its initials, and because of its focus on serving the counterculture, the ODC was often mistakenly thought to be named the "overdose clinic."

Walking up the stairs and through the front door of the ODC in 1973 you first encountered the small, dark "lounge." There was desk-space for two people to the right of the door. The workers here greeted visitors, directing them to the various units, and answered phones. More than just receptionists, this pair was also the on-duty telephone crisis intervention workers. As such they were the ODC's public interface and triaged the incoming calls. They would offer callers referral information, forward them to other units, or if the situation warranted, dispatch the Flying Squad mobile crisis intervention team.

By 1973 the ODC had earned a good reputation with “The Establishment,” also known as the “straights.” It was not unusual for telephone workers to receive referrals from hospitals, the fire department, or even the police.

Many of the calls the telephone workers handled were in some way drug related. The ODC’s good working relationship with agencies such as the Poison Control Center and the U of W Hospital ER, combined with their strict policy of confidentiality made them a unique and valuable resource. Often callers needed help identifying a pill or capsule, or information on drug interactions. Many of the phone workers were adept at “talking down” people who were having a bad trip on a hallucinogenic drug, known as a “bummer.” This skill was one of the thing the ODC was best known for.

Beyond the lounge were the short- and long-term counseling offices. Often staffed by social work, psychology or psychiatric students the counseling unit provided a broad range of services, from traditional services such as family counseling to then groundbreaking gender identity issues.

The ODC in the early 1970s provided a mix of traditional and alternative services that was unique in the Seattle area. They provided counseling and referral services to underage runaways, always informing the clients of the clinic’s responsibility to inform the police of these contacts within 48 hours. They also provided a range of services related to the military draft including counseling and education as well as referrals to religious and other groups.

The actual free medical clinic was downstairs in the basement. Staffed by volunteer doctors and utilizing mainly donated supplies, the medical unit dealt with all manner of non-emergency medical issues. It was said that at the time the ODC was the oldest still-existing free medical clinic in the United States.

See Web link

Newspaper article from Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Oct. 26, 1969, "Clinic In Seattle Proves Trusted Refuge For Youthful Drug Users".