TUKWILA, Wash. – The growing opioid epidemic is killing people in our community. New numbers show 680 people died from an opioid overdose in King County in 2016.
Some argue safe consumption sites could reduce the likelihood of those deaths. Those are places where addicts can smoke, snort, or inject the drug of their choice under medical supervision without going to jail.
On Thursday, one lawmaker and his supporters proposed a new initiative to ban those sites in King County.
“You’re always trying to chase that first high,” said Joshua Freed of Bothell, chairman of IMPAC Washington, which he describes as an organization built on principles such as protecting rights, strengthening the economy and pursuing "a collaborative visionary approach to problem solving."
In March, the Lake City Neighborhood Alliance held a meeting about safe consumption sites where users can shoot up, snort, and smoke drugs with medical personnel around.
“People dying and shooting up in an alley alone -- it creates a safety hazard, it creates a public health hazard,” said Brad Finegood, co-chairman of the Heroin & Opioid Task Force.
Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, with Public Health -- Seattle and King County, says staff could reduce harm if users go to safe consumption sites.
“Having sites where people can safely inject and have their overdose reversed and their death prevented would be very beneficial,” Duchin said.
But Freed says those sites don’t get people off of drugs.
“I don’t think it’s the right step to provide them with a place to continue with that use. I’d rather move toward a place where you provide them treatment,” said Freed. “Maybe it's information centers downtown that would allow people to go find that help.”
That’s why he is the chief sponsor of the proposed Initiative 27. Its mission reads, “Ban heroin injection sites in King County and keep our communities safe.”
He says there are other ways to save users instead of enabling them. He points to statistics from Canada’s safe consumption site.
“In 2015, I think 6,025 users were serviced there at that site, only 3 percent of them went on to actually go and find help,” said Freed.
Starting this weekend, you’ll see volunteers canvassing neighborhoods getting people to sign the petitions to put the proposed Initiative 27 before King County voters. They need more than 47,000 signatures by the end of summer to put the initiative on November’s ballot.
State Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, is also sponsoring a bill in the Legislature to prevent safe consumption sites in Washington. It passed in the Senate, but is expected to fail in the Democratic-controlled house. If you’d like to take a closer look or sign Initiative 27 that is only for King County, click here.