• State supreme court gives boost to safe consumption sites

    By: Essex Porter

    Updated:

    “You see people using right on the street,” said John Bowden in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

    In response to an opioid addiction crisis, the Seattle-King County Health Department has approved the creation of two safe consumption sites like this one in Vancouver, British Columbia. The King County Council approved startup money.

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    “Really I have mixed feelings about it. Sometimes I think it's contributing to the problem, other times I think it’s helping, it’s helping so that we don't have as many deaths, as many bad things that happen from it,” Bowden said.

    Former Bothell Mayor Joshua Freed led the fight to give citizens a vote on using taxpayer money for sites. He qualified Initiative 27 for the February ballot, but today the Washington state Supreme Court said county budget decisions can't be overturned by initiative.

    “I’m certainly disappointed at the decision of the state Supreme Court. We were hoping that they would rule in favor of the voters of King County allowing them to have the right to vote to keep heroin injection sites illegal,” said Freed.

    Jeanne Kohl-Welles sits on both the King County Council and the County Health Board. And she has a nephew who died from opioid addiction.

    “I believe that the evidence exists and strongly exists from around the world where there are these safe consumption sites that they save people's lives,” she said.

    Kohl-Welles says that's because the sites can offer help if there's an overdose and treatment to help people get off drugs.

    “Drugs are bad but might as well be safe if you're doing it,” said Zach Speakes in Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson Park

    Now Freed might go bigger with his fight to outlaw safe injection sites He’s looking into a statewide initiative to ban them.

    “The broader we take it and let more voters participate I think the greater success we have to ban heroin injection sites.”

    In a statement, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said building a safe consumption site in Seattle will have to await the resources the operate it effectively.

    “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is the right decision for Seattle. Too many people are dying from the opioid epidemic, and the threat of fetanyl is rising. The epidemic spans across our region, requiring a regional and holistic response to end the crisis. Along with activities to prevent opioid abuse and to increase access to treatment-on-demand, a Community Health Engagement Location (CHEL) is one aspect of a harm-reduction approach to address this epidemic.

    Seattle is committed to a continuum of services and treatment and our final budget committed to invest $1.4 million in one-time funding to develop a CHEL. 

    The expert community task force found that to be effective, a CHEL must include holistic services to address the systemic issues associated with opioid substance use disorder, including Medication Assisted Treatment. The ongoing minimal cost for such services is estimated at $2.5 million each year. 

    That need is one reason why securing additional state resources for mental health treatment and chemical dependency remains a top priority.” 

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