Lawmaker introduces bill banning 'safe injection sites' in Washington

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A Washington state senator introduced legislation that would ban the creation on heroin injection sites in Washington cities.

Safe injection sites are designated clinics where addicts can shoot up legally. KIRO 7 News' Graham Johnson is working on this story for a report at 5 p.m. Watch on-air or here.

Key developments: 

  • Heroin crisis task force recommended 2 injections sites last year
  • A councilwoman suggested Belltown and Lake City 
  • Proponents said it could say taxpayers millions in crisis services 
  • Opponents said a consumption site condones drug use. 
  • Washington state senator now introducing bill banning injection sites in state. 

The King County Heroin Crisis Task Force recommended at least two safe injection sites for drug users last year. Seattle City Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw volunteered Seattle for two sites: one in Belltown and one in Lake City.

Proponents of a "safe consumption site" point to a similar housing operation in Seattle, where 75 alcoholics can drink in their rooms and have access to on-site treatment services. Studies show the operation saved taxpayers millions in housing and crisis services annually and decreased alcohol consumption in residents.

Sen. Mark Miloscia wrote in a news release on Tuesday that he introduced a bill to ban such sites.

"We must stop the push for decriminalization of drugs," said Miloscia, R-Federal Way. "Standing idly by while addicts abuse illegal drugs is not compassionate, and it does not solve the problem."

Vancouver is home to the only safe injection site in North America, Insite. KIRO 7 visited earlier this year and saw how people receive clean supplies to shoot up under medical supervision, with access to social services. But we also found people using drugs right outside.

The clinic manager told KIRO 7 News that the overdose death rate in the area around Insite has dropped 35 percent. But Miloscia believes the safe-injection site is a failure.

“We must focus our time, money and resources on treatment options that get people off illegal drugs, not encourage drug abuse," he said.

In Seattle, public overdoses are on the rise. Supporters say so-called safe injection sites are a way to combat the overdoses. In a recent KIRO 7 News investigative report, we mapped out where overdosing cases happen.  Here's a 2016 map.

Overdoses are overloading Seattle Fire and diverting crews from other emergencies.  Each call costs at least two-thousand-dollars, costing taxpayers millions since 2014.

Here’s a timeline of how the discussion behind Seattle becoming the first U.S. city with sites for heroin users to safely use drugs.

September 2016: King County Heroin Crisis Task Force recommends 2 injection sites

The King County Heroin Crisis Task Force is recommending at least two safe injection sites for drug users: one located within Seattle and one outside city limits.

They announced the recommendation with a proposed number of locations in a news conference on Thursday.

“These sites will provide individuals with opiod use disorder a portal to return to healthy lives by reducing overdoses and preventing infections like Hep B & C  HIV,” said Jeff Duchin, a health officer with Public Health of Seattle & King County.

August 2016: Local leaders take big step toward ‘safe consumption site' for addicts

A majority of people on King County heroin’s task force support the idea of a safe consumption site.

Proponents of a "safe consumption site" point to a similar housing operation in Seattle, where 75 alcoholics can drink in their rooms and have access to on-site treatment services. Studies show the operation saved taxpayers millions in housing and crisis services annually and decreased alcohol consumption in residents.

February 2014: Seattle considering ‘safe places' for addicts to shoot up

KIRO 7 News reported in February that Seattle could be the first city in the U.S. to allow safe consumption sites, where people with drug addiction can safely use drugs under medical supervision.

"I've done a lot of work looking at where are people dying of drug overdoses," said Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, a University of Washington drug researcher.  "It's all across King County.  It's not just downtown."

Dr. Banta-Green says the use of illegal drugs like heroin has become a public health crisis.

"I do think we have to do something," he said.  "It's really quite striking."

That something, say drug prevention activists, should be safe injection or consumption sites, like in Vancouver, British Columbia, where users take drugs in a clinic without risking arrest.

Opponents say a consumption site condones drug use.

So what would a consumption site look like?

KIRO 7 News went to Vancouver to see how the injection site operated and if a King County site would run similarly.

When a KIRO 7 News crew was in Vancouver, we saw people injecting on the street -- they told us because of the wait to get a booth.

The clinic does not give users drugs; it provides free, clean supplies.

“People often go with a cooker, alcohol, need a tie for your arm, a bit of water,” clinic manager Andy Day told KIRO 7 News.

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Staff members at the clinic refer to people who seek help as clients. Clients take their supplies to one of 13 booths fitted with mirrors and inject themselves under the watchful eyes of health care professionals. The booths are almost always full.

Since opening in 2003, Day says the overdose death rate in the area around Insite has dropped 35 percent, and saving addicts in the clinic costs three million taxpayer dollars a year. 
 
Day says that's cheaper than treating them in the hospital for the drugs, or diseases contracted because of the drugs.

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