• Timeline: The fight for Seattle-area injection sites and cases against them

    By: KIRO 7 News Staff

    Updated:

    Earlier this year King County leaders vowed to open injection sites for heroin addicts to shoot up in legally. Nearly 10 months after that promise, no locations have opened, and a tough discussion continues into whether these clinics should function in the community. 

    Here’s a timeline of developments in the fight for and against injection sites. See key developments below to catch up, and scroll down for an in-depth timeline of events.


    Key developments: 

    • The King County Heroin Crisis Task Force recommended in 2016 at least two safe injection sites for drug users: one located within Seattle and one outside city limits. Read full story here.

    • Injection sites are supervised facilities where addicts can use drugs. 

     How would an injection site operate in Seattle? Click here to see

    • Advocates say the clinics prevent overdoses. 

    • Opponents say it condones drug use.

    • King Council council voted to allow cities to decide whether they wanted the injection sites. Most eastside cities voted to ban them. Read full story here.

    • Over the summer, a group gathered signatures for a ballot initiative so voters can decide whether to ban the sites. A judge decided on Monday that voters do not have the power to ban injection sites via ballot initiative. Read full story here. 


    October 2017: Judge to rule if voters can decide ban on injection sites

     Voters do not have the authority through ballot initiatives to decide if supervised injection sites should be banned, according to a King County Judge's ruling on Monday. 

    Over the summer, a group gathered signatures for a February ballot initiative that would allow the public to vote on banning injection sites. 

    King County Judge Alecia Galvan declared that I-27 is invalid because it "extends beyond the scope of the local initiative power." Galvan instructed that it not be included in winter ballot. 

    Read the full story here.

    August 2017: Eastside cities voting against injection sites 

    Bellevue, Federal Way, Auburn, and Renton have voted to ban safe injection sites for drug users in opposition to a proposal by King County.

    Following Seattle, these cities all rank in the top six in overdose deaths in King County. After Seattle, Auburn tops the list with 216 overdose deaths during the past 16 years followed by Kent (210), Renton (191), Federal Way (162) and Bellevue (117).

    Watch video below, scroll down to keep reading. 

    Bellevue Mayor John Stokes, who led the city’s recent effort to ban the sites, said he isn’t convinced that data proves safe injection sites help the opioid problem. And he doesn’t think that resistance to hosting a site means that city officials don’t care.

    “It doesn’t mean we’re not concerned. We’re not heartless,” he said in a recent council meeting.

    Read full story here.

    July 2017: Safe injection site opponents turn in 70,000 signatures to ban them in King County

    Supporters behind Initiative 27 to ban safe injection sites turned in more than enough signatures to have the measure put on the ballot.  They’re pushing for the King County Council to put it on the November ballot so voters can weigh in before two approved safe injection sites open.

    “This petition is not about shaming the user,” said Joshua Freed of IMPACtion, the political action group behind the initiative.  “What's neat about this initiative process is it's non-partisan. It's an idea you can get behind.”

    Freed emphasizes that they agree with most of the recommendations from the King County Opioid Task Force, just not injection sites.
     

    June 2017: Heroin injection sites only in cities that choose to establish the sites

    The King County council voted in an amendment that limits injections sites and allows city's elected leaders choose whether to locate these facilities in their communities. 
    “I am strongly against the implementation of heroin injection sites. I would rather see these resources go instead towards funding the proven treatment methods we already have and exploring new ways to support prevention, intervention, and treatment," Metropolitan King County Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn wrote after the vote.

    May 2017: King County Metro bus ads support safe injection sites as new initiative pops up against them

    A local nonprofit is supporting ads on King County Metro buses that promote safe injection sites for heroin and other illegal drugs.

    The ads, which proclaim “Safer is better. Supervised consumption spaces prevent fatal overdose,” were posted by VOCAL-WA, supported by the Public Defender Association.

    King County Metro confirmed there are 40 ads that will be running on buses based out of downtown Seattle and Tukwila for the next five weeks.

    VOCAL-WA said the money for the ads was from private foundation grants and individual donations, and Patricia Sully, who is heading up the campaign, said via email that the ads reflect “established science and outcomes.”

    “People understandably don't always know the benefits of such spaces -- that they save lives, reduce the spread of disease, and connect people to other necessary care,” she wrote.

    Read the full story here.

    Late-Jan. 2017: Leaders announce injection site to open within a year

    Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine announce the county will move forward with recommendations from the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force.

    Heroin-injection sites are expected to come to King County. The first would open in Seattle, ideally within a year, leaders said. The second would be elsewhere in King County.  
     
    Other county leaders described the heroin and opioid epidemic as a public health emergency and insisted the development of the safe injection sites are similar to the opening of local needle exchanges for drug users decades ago.

    Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force recommendations include:

    1. Prevention of opioid use: Promote safe storage and disposal of medications.
    2. Treatment expansions: At needle exchanges, make treatment on demand available for all types of substance-use disorders.
    3. Preventing overdoses: Seattle officers started carrying Narcan, a nasal inhalant, in mid-March. It can reverse the physical effects of a heroin or pharmaceutical opioid overdose in minutes. The task force wants to continue to distribute naloxone kits to more locations such as treatment providers, homeless shelters, law enforcement, and first responders
    4. Injection sites: Injection sites would offer users who take drugs outside, to use those drugs indoors in a supervised facility. 

    Deputies will not arrest people going to or coming from a heroin safe-injection site, King County Sheriff John Urquhart said.

    Someone locally likely talked to the Drug Enforcement Administration about the county’s plan, Urquhart said, but it wasn’t him. County leaders said they do not believe they need additional authority to move forward.

    Read full story here.

    Mid-Jan. 2017: King County prosecutor endorses safe injection sites for drug users

    King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg endorsed safe injection sites in January. It came just days after the Board of Health approved two pilot safe injection sites  approved two pilot safe injection sites. 

    Satterberg said that unlike the response to crack cocaine in the 80s and 90s, “I believe that the criminal justice system should not take a primary role, and that instead we should follow the lead of public health professionals.”

    November 2016: Where overdoses are happening and possible site locations 

    The King County Heroin Crisis Task Force recommended at least two safe injection sites for drug users. 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.

    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. 

    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 opioid 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.

    Read full story here.

    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.

    Read full story here.

    February 2016: Seattle considering ‘safe places' for addicts to shoot up

    KIRO 7 News reported in February 2016 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.

    Read full story here.

    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.

    We saw people injecting on the street, and users told us because of the wait to get a booth.

    File photo: A free clinic in Canada. It gives drug users a place that they can inject themselves under the watchful eye of medical professionals.

    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.

    >> Read our Q&A: How would an injection site operate in Seattle?

    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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