Joshua Freed, right, is the chair of Citizens for a Safe King County. The group has launched a campaign to gather signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot that would prohibit government-funded injection sites in the county. Aaron Kunkler/Redmond Reporter

Joshua Freed, right, is the chair of Citizens for a Safe King County. The group has launched a campaign to gather signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot that would prohibit government-funded injection sites in the county. Aaron Kunkler/Redmond Reporter

Group Launches Campaign to Bar Safe Consumption Sites in King County

Advocates say the sites would provide a safe environment to use drugs, medical staff to respond to emergencies, and treatment options.

Signature gathering has begun for a proposed King County ordinance that would prohibit municipalities from offering county-approved safe consumption sites, which provide drug users with a place to consume without fear of arrest and under the eye of medical professionals.

Citizens for a Safe King County is the group behind Initiative 27, which would create the ordinance banning such sites. The group includes state legislators and local politicians.

In March 2016, county Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray commissioned a task force to make recommendations on how to combat the heroin epidemic that has been affecting communities nationwide, including Seattle and surrounding cities. The task force was comprised of 40 experts in various fields, ranging from law enforcement to mental health and addiction experts.

The task force made eight recommendations that were approved by the county Board of Health in January. These recommendations included opening two safe-consumption sites. One would be in Seattle and the other would be elsewhere.

The site locations have not been chosen, but Chad Lewis, deputy director of communications for Dow Constantine, said the county was hoping to have at least one site operational by the end of the year.

“There’s no deadline for it, but that’s what the co-task force chairs said,” Lewis said. “Right now you have people dying in the alleyways and streets and homes—living rooms—so it’s an increasingly fatal epidemic, so that’s the most urgent need, stopping the sharp increase in fatal overdoses.”

Heroin overdoses in the county have jumped from 49 in 2009 to 132 in 2015.

Advocates say the sites would allow users to consume the drugs in a safe environment with clean needles, which reduces the risk of contracting diseases like HIV, as well as letting staff respond to medical emergencies.

Importantly, advocates say, it would allow users easier access to treatment and support to help them get clean. If the sites are approved, they would be the first in the nation. Vancouver, British Columbia has operated a safe-consumption site for decades.

Other community groups feel the sites would be detrimental to both cities and the county, but also to people addicted to drugs.

The group behind the proposed Initiative 27, which would bar municipalities from funding or operating such sites, announced they were collecting signatures at a campaign kickoff at Perrigo Park in Redmond last Thursday.

Among those in attendance were chair and Bothell City Councilmember Joshua Freed, state legislators Sen. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way and Rep. Morgan Irwin, who is also a Seattle police officer.

“I don’t think ultimately that’s the right solution,” said Freed, who got involved after hearing concerns from locals.

Instead, Freed said he hopes to find a solution where people struggling with addiction have an easier time accessing treatment services.

“Is that what we want? Open air drug markets everywhere,” Miloscia said.

The opioid epidemic that has been wreaking havoc across the country in recent years has been largely tied to the over-prescription of narcotic painkillers, such as oxycodone, according to national reports.

When users became addicted, many would turn to the cheaper and more readily available alternative found in heroin, according to Freed.

Irwin said it is difficult seeing the toll that drugs take on users in Seattle.

“It’s tragic to see this happen,” he said.

While Irwin supports Initiative 27, other law enforcement personnel who were on the county’s task force recommended the implementation of injection sites.

But Irwin also said he is concerned about auxiliary crimes, such as burglaries, property destruction and violence, which he said could follow the sites.

“I don’t think it’s going to do what people want it to do,” he said. “We’ll perpetuate a very dangerous drug culture.”

The opioid epidemic in Seattle, from what he has seen, has not slowed either. The county medical examiner’s office releases an annual report that includes figures on overdose deaths, but the 2016 report has not yet been published.

Other preventative measures, such as the county making some 1,500 doses of the overdose-reversing drug Naxalone available to first responders, were not controversial at the meeting on Thursday.

The county also set up more than 100 secure disposal sites for unused medications for residents around the county.

A pilot project that would offer rapid access to buprenorphine, a drug used to help ween users off heroin, was also started.

Citizens for a Safe King County, the group proposing Initiative 27, has until July 31 to gather enough signatures to place their initiative on the November ballot.

news@seattleweekly.com

A version of this story originally appeared in the Bothell-Kenmore Reporter.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

Photo of promotional recruitment banner used by Auburn Police Department at Petpalooza. The banner features Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson, who is awaiting trial for the 2019 murder and assault of Jesse Sarey. Photo courtesy of Jeff Trimble
Auburn police use photo of embattled officer on recruitment banner

Families of people killed by Jeffrey Nelson, who’s awaiting trial for murder, speak out over use of his photo at Petpalooza.

T
Use your King County library card to explore the outdoors

KCLS cardholders can check out a Discover Pass for two weeks to explore public lands.

Monkeypox virus. Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control.
King County identifies first presumptive monkeypox case

The illness is not as easily transmitted compared to COVID-19, according to health officer.

This screenshot from Auburn Police Department bodycam footage shows an officer about to fire his weapon and kill dog on May 13, 2022.
Auburn police shoot dog, and owner claims it wasn’t justified

See videos of attack as well as bodycam footage of officer firing at dog.

File photo.
King County Council approves creation of Cannabis Safety Taskforce amid rash of dispensary robberies

The multi-agency task force will cooperate to find ways to improve safety in the cash-only industry.

Screenshot from ORCA website
New ORCA system launches for regional transit across the Puget Sound

Overhaul includes new website, mobile application and digital business account manager.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII (Episode 4): Foster mom wants accountability in Auburn cop’s upcoming murder trial

Special podcast series explores Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

Diane Renee Erdmann and Bernard Ross Hansen. Photos courtesy of FBI
FBI arrests Auburn couple after 11-day manhunt

The couple was previously convicted for fraud and skipped sentencing on April 29.

Screenshot from Barnes and Noble website
Cover art of books that KSD Librarian Gavin Downing says have been under fire: “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts),” by Lev A.C. Rosen, “If I Was Your Girl,” by Meredith Russo, and “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George Matthew Johnson.
Kent middle school librarian wins intellectual freedom award

Gavin Downing refused to keep ‘silence in the library’ amid attempted book banning and censorship.

t
Kent elementary school teacher accused of using racist language toward student

River Ridge Elementary instructor placed on administrative leave by Kent School District.

FILE PHOTO: King County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
Dozens of King County Sheriff’s Office employees left jobs instead of getting vaccinated

This added on to the existing number of vacancies in the department.