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The War on Drugs

Yet Another King County Community Considers Ban on Safe Drug Sites

The Kent City Council will vote Tuesday night on legislation cribbed from three other cities that have already approved a ban.

Kent City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Dana Ralph wants the council to ban safe consumption sites, also known as safe injection sites, in Kent. If the council follows through, Kent would join a growing list of King County municipalities that have passed bans against such sites.

“First of all I want to clear up some misconceptions,” Ralph said in a press release Thursday. “There are no such things as safe injection sites because you won’t find a medical provider anywhere that will tell you shooting up heroin is safe. I have called upon the City Council president to take action on this time sensitive and critically important issue by placing an ordinance on the agenda for the next council meeting.”

Council President Bill Boyce said on Thursday in a phone interview that an ordinance to ban the safe injection sites will be on the agenda for the council’s Tuesday night meeting.

“I agree with that,” Boyce said about a ban. “I reached out to the other council members (except Dennis Higgins who was out of town) one by one and they are all in agreement.”

Ralph said it’s important for Kent to implement a ban.

“As a mother, small business owner, community volunteer and council member, I will not sit idly by and allow the possibility of our government condoning the usage of a deadly drug in government sanctioned areas anywhere within our city,” Ralph said.

The sites, where people would be supervised while using various drugs, were part of more than 30 recommendations of the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine endorsed the panel’s recommendation that the county open two safe-injection sites, one to be located in Seattle and another elsewhere in the county, in a location yet to be determined.

The King County Board of Health, an 11-member board of elected officials and doctors, voted unanimously in January to endorse the sites, which would be the first of their kind in the nation. Vancouver Coastal Health, a public agency, runs a drug injection site in Vancouver, B.C.

Then the King County Council voted 5-4 in June to limit the use of county funds for establishing heroin injection sites only in cities whose elected leaders choose to allow the facilities, opening the door for municipalities to ban such sites, which some have done. Since the county council vote, the city councils of Auburn, Bellevue, and Federal Way have each unanimously passed bans against safe injection sites. Council President Boyce said staff from the City of Kent Attorney’s Office looked at ordinances in those cities to help write a draft ordinance.

“It would create more problems that it would solve,” Boyce said about the injection sites. “And King County said it would not force it on us.”

Ralph, who is running against fellow council member Jim Berrios for the mayor’s seat this fall, said in her press release she would work next year to find other ways to help those addicted to drugs.

“I will convene a task force of service providers, mental health experts, community leaders and residents to propose an alternative plan,” she said. “We have folks in crisis that have been consumed by addiction and I am committed to treating the root causes of addiction. We need to invest in mental health, crisis intervention services and treatment for those want help turning their lives around.”

Ralph also called on support for the ban from Berrios.

“As mayoral candidates I believe we need to stand united on this issue and that the community deserves to know where we stand on something that could alter the very fabric of their community,” she said. “Therefore, I call on my opponent, to join me in opposing heroin injection sites in Kent. I hope he (Berrios) will work with myself and others to pass an ordinance prohibiting these sites.”

Berrios could not be reached for comment on Thursday. Berrios and Ralph both said at a mayoral forum during the primary race that they opposed allowing drug injection sites.

Meanwhile, Joshua Freed, a member of the Bothell City Council, is leading a drive for an initiative to ban safe injection sites in King County for heroin and other drugs. Initiative 27 leaders say they are on pace to collect enough signatures to get the proposal on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

news@seattleweekly.com

A version of this story was first published in the Kent Reporter.

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