Some Pierce County leaders pushing to ban safe injection sites

TACOMA, Wash. -- There is no dispute that more Americans are dying from opioid overdoses. But there is a lot of dispute on how to stop the crisis.

“We want to nip it in the bud and take care of it,” Pierce County Council member Pam Roach said.

Roach wants to ban safe injection sites despite the fact that no one in unincorporated Pierce County has filed an application with the county to open one.

Roach says she wants to get ahead of the issue before the conversation gets too far ahead.

“We don’t want an expansion of this kind of program that I believe will bring in more drug users, be a poor example to our kids and create a dangerous situation for people,” Roach said.

As passionate as she is, so is council member Rick Talbert.

“The fact that we are having a conversation about preventing a tool without even exploring whether or not that tool has value is beyond me,” Talbert said.

Talbert calls a ban fearmongering.

“What scares me the most is that we are seeing communities taking the same fearmongering and hyperbolic conversations,” Talbert said.

Council member Connie Ladenburg also spoke out against the measure to ban safe injection sites.

"I am not going to be supporting this, I don't think it should go forward," Ladenburg said.

All the people who signed up to speak in front of the council on Monday echoed Talbert and Ladenburg's views.

“Public health intervention increases the number of people who enter drug treatment and it does not increase crime or experimentation of drugs,” Erick Seelbach with the Pierce County Aids Foundation said.

“We don’t want drug use in our parks, in our restrooms. Containing it in in a public health facility would be much better than the status quo,” Tacoma resident Phil Mocek said.

Ingrid Walker, an associate professor at UW Tacoma, is studying the issue and says there is more than meets the eye when it comes to safe injection sites.

“I think there is an ignorance about what they are, there are some fears, a magnet to draw people in that was actually said in there, that doesn’t happen,” Walker said.

Walker says safe injection sites would be introduced in an area already plagued with open drug use; she also says the method saves money on emergency care.

“If you want to talk about it in a fiscal sense, it’s a policy that makes sense,” Walker said.

But if you ask Roach, the vast majority of Pierce County constituents want a ban.

“Who is going to go in and say to a nice neighbor: By the way, we are going to have 'safe injection sites' right here next to you? I hope you will be fine with that,” Roach said.

The council passed a resolution to get the zoning department to look into the issue.

There could be a final vote on a ban sometime this summer and if it passes it would only affect unincorporated Pierce County.

The Washington Department of Health says between 2012 to 2016 there were 653 overdose deaths in Pierce County.