Safe in­jec­tion sites in King County clear court hur­dle

The News Tribune - - Local - BY ASIA FIELDS Seat­tle Times

SUP­PORT­ERS SAY SITES WOULD RE­DUCE OVER­DOSE DEATHS AND IN­CREASE THE CHANCES USERS WILL CON­NECT TO SER­VICES, BASED ON RE­SEARCH AT A VAN­COU­VER, B.C., FA­CIL­ITY THAT HAS BEEN OPEN SINCE 2003.

A plan to open safein­jec­tion sites in King County cleared a le­gal hur­dle Thurs­day, as the state Supreme Court struck down a pro­posed ini­tia­tive that would have blocked fund­ing for them.

The court unan­i­mously ruled that Ini­tia­tive 27 — which was slated for the Fe­bru­ary 2018 bal­lot be­fore be­ing tossed out by a King County Su­pe­rior Court judge last year — in­fringed on the author­ity of the Metropoli­tan King County Coun­cil.

The ini­tia­tive would have al­lowed King County vot­ers to de­cide whether to ban pub­lic fund­ing for safe-in­jec­tion sites. In an opin­ion writ­ten by Jus­tice Charles John­son, the court said that “while we do not ques­tion whether a dif­fer­ent ini­tia­tive could be used to set pol­icy con­cern­ing (safe-in­jec­tion) sites,” Ini­tia­tive 27 in­ter­fered with the coun­cil’s bud­get­set­ting author­ity.

Safe-in­jec­tion sites are in­tended to al­low peo­ple to use drugs in a san­i­tary, su­per­vised en­vi­ron­ment with ac­cess to med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als. Some sites are al­ready open in Canada and Europe. Sev­eral cities, in­clud­ing Seat­tle, in the U.S. have pro­posed them in ap­par­ent vi­o­la­tion of fed­eral drug laws, but none are open yet.

In 2017, King County Ex­ec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine and then-Seat­tle Mayor Ed Mur­ray en­dorsed a rec­om­men­da­tion from a task force on heroin and opi­ate ad­dic­tion to open two pi­lot sites, one in Seat­tle and one else­where in the county. The Metropoli­tan King County Coun­cil ap­proved spend­ing $2 mil­lion, and Seat­tle ear­marked $1.3 mil­lion in last year’s bud­get.

Sup­port­ers say the sites would re­duce over­dose deaths and in­crease the chances users will con­nect to ser­vices, based on re­search at a Van­cou­ver, B.C., fa­cil­ity that has been open since 2003.

Crit­ics, led by for­mer Bothell Mayor Joshua Freed, ar­gued that money and po­lit­i­cal will spent on the sites could be bet­ter spent on treat­ment for sub­stance users who want to stop, and that the sites amount to gov­ern­mentspon­sored drug use.

The I-27 cam­paign re­ceived more than 69,000 sig­na­tures to get on the bal­lot, but Pro­tect Pub­lic Health, a group of pub­lichealth ex­perts and peo­ple who have had loved ones die of over­dose, sued to block the ini­tia­tive last year. King County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Veron­ica AliceaGalván blocked the ini­tia-

tive, rec­og­niz­ing the author­ity of the King County Board of Health over bud­get­ing mat­ters.

The mea­sure’s sponsor, IMPAC­tion, ap­pealed that rul­ing to the Supreme Court, which af­firmed Alicea-Galván’s de­ci­sion.

The sites have not been widely wel­comed — Belle­vue, Kent, Ren­ton, Auburn and Fed­eral Way have banned them.

King County Coun­cilmem­ber Jeanne Kohl- Welles, a backer of safein­jec­tion sites, said she agrees with the court rul­ing and doesn’t think health pol­icy should be de­cided through an ini­tia­tive.

“Safe in­jec­tion sites have the po­ten­tial to change the tra­jec­tory of a per­son’s life. I only wish my young nephew had ac­cess to one be­fore he died,” she said in an email.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has threat­ened “swift and ag­gres­sive ac­tion” against Seat­tle and other cities that use safein­jec­tion sites. But elected lead­ers are push­ing for sites in Philadel­phia, New York, San Fran­cisco, and Den­ver, and ad­vo­cates are even push­ing for them in places like Burling­ton, Ver­mont.

Seat­tle City At­tor­ney Pete Holmes said he’s pre­pared to de­fend the mayor and City Coun­cil on what­ever next steps they take.

The next ma­jor hur­dle for the city is where to put the site. Coun­cilmem­ber Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs Seat­tle’s health com­mit­tee, said they are talk­ing with King County ad­min­is­tra­tion about putting them in a mo­bile van that would sit at an ex­ist­ing pub­lic health clinic or fa­cil­ity. She stressed the van would not be roam­ing around Seat­tle, and it wouldn’t be placed in a neigh­bor­hood with­out con­ver­sa­tions with the com­mu­nity.

Mosqueda’s goal is to open a site in 2019.

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