State senator Mark Miloscia has made good on his promise to try and ban safe drug sites in Washington—that is, clean, private facilities where illicit drug users can get high under medical supervision with drug treatment counselors standing by. Such sites follow a philosophy of consensual “harm reduction,” as opposed to forced abstinence.
Today, Miloscia and fellow Republicans Steve O’Ban and Randi Becker sponsored a bill that would prevent cities and counties from establishing safe drug sites without permission from the state. It would also freeze state public health funding to municipalities that spend any money on safe drug sites. From the bill’s text:
The state of Washington fully occupies and preempts the entire field of safe injection site regulation…Local laws and ordinances that are inconsistent with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law may not be enacted and are preempted and repealed.
An injection-only safe drug site in Vancouver, B.C. has been operating since 2003. Thousands of people have overdosed there; none have died. According to several studies, it saves taxpayer money by reducing downstream costs like emergency room visits.
Under pressure from activists and healthcare providers in the midst of a generational wave of opioid addiction, Seattle and King County are on the verge of launching the first safe drug site in the United States. In December, a heroin task force convened by the executives of King County, Seattle, Renton and Auburn recommended establishing two pilot sites (among other things). Those executives were supposed to formally respond to the recommendations by the end of last year, but have not yet done so. King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray have both already said they support establishing a safe drug site pilot in principle.
In a press release today, Miloscia said, “We must stop the push for the decriminalization of drugs. Standing by idly while addicts abuse illegal drugs is not compassionate, and it does not solve the problem.” Of course, “standing by idly” doesn’t very well describe medically-supervised sites with recovery services on standby. We’ve previously editorialized in favor of both safe drug sites and full decriminalization of drugs.
When we spoke to Miloscia about this bill last month, he said this:
“The law and government and relationships through family and community is all designed to make people live a certain way…Whether it’s managing employees or children or drug dealers on the street, if you stop arresting people and you stop the negative sticks, you’ll have more of it.
“It comes back to my faith,” he said. “You hate the sin, you love the sinner. Our goal is to take that human being, our brother or sister…who’s hooked on drugs, and get them into treatment, whether they want to or not. It’s not about waiting for them to be ready.”
As he acknowledged then, Milsocia’s bill is unlikely to become law under the current legislature and governor. However, the pending inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States could create even bigger problems for King County’s nascent harm reduction movement.