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Seattle to be first city in the nation to offer 'safe injection sites'

The council now appears to be trying to take up the legislation while the public's attention is focused on other matters such as defunding the Seattle Police Department.
Ari Hoffman Seattle, WA

Today, the Public Safety and Human Services Committee of the Seattle City Council will be hearing presentations on establishing a city funded injection site in Seattle and another in a location to be determined in King County.

While the idea of an injection or consumption site has been put on hold before, the council now appears to be trying to take up the legislation while the public's attention is focused on other matters such as defunding the Seattle Police Department.

The committee will be discussing the Final Heroin Opiate Addiction Task Force Report, the Project Description for Supervised Consumption, a presentation from Seattle-King County Public Health, and a presentation from the organization Yes to SCS.

The "Final Heroin Opiate Addiction Task Force Report" was submitted in 2016 and does not take into account changes on the ground in Seattle and around the country such as Seattle's own lawsuit against Perdue Pharma which blamed drug use as the majority contributing factor of homelessness in Seattle.

A bombshell report commissioned last year by the Canadian government in Alberta regarding their own injection sites demonstrated that "consumption sites" were not as effective as predicted. According to the Alberta report, opioid-related calls for emergency medical services and death rates in the immediate vicinity of the sites continued to increase after the sites opened. Calls to police to report criminal activity also generally increased near safe consumption sites. Local residents complained about lack of response to calls for police service, as well as "de-policing" near the sites. There was an increase in needle debris on public and private property where SCS sites were located. This was a major concern for those who lived nearby, and helped create a perception among community members that the sites both decreased safety and increased crime.

One of the claims by proponents of injection sites is that there have been no deaths at the sites themselves. The Alberta report augmented that statistic with the reality that "While there were no deaths recorded among people who used drugs at the SCS sites," the report goes on to say, "death rates in the immediate vicinity of the SCS locations increased. Opioid-related calls for emergency medical services (EMS) also increased in the immediate vicinity following the opening of the sites."

While only a doctor or a coroner can declare a person legally dead, there are usually none of these professionals on site. EMT's can respond to an overdose event at a site and take the person to a hospital where they are declared dead in the emergency room, removing the death event from the location of the site. Alternatively, an overdose victim can be saved by Naloxone on site but refuse further treatment, then leave the facility and die elsewhere. Neither of these deaths would be attributed to the site.

If injection sites are established in Seattle, they would be the first one in the United States. Philadelphia was slated to have the first site but overwhelming community pushback caused the opening of the site to be put on hold. Seattle was one of multiple cities to file an amicus brief to a federal judge to support the opening of the Philadelphia site.

The idea of an injection site has been discussed and planned by the Seattle City Council and Seattle Mayor before. $1.5 million has even been put aside in the city budget for the project. However, In April 2019 US Attorney Brian Moran told Seattle officials "Don’t go there" in reference to opening an injection site.

Citizens for a Safe King County have been trying to block the sites from opening. In 2018, the group tried to place I-27 on the ballot, which would have prevented the county from spending money on funding the sites. The Washington State Supreme Court struck down the initiative, saying it would have infringed on the county’s right to set its own budget.

Seattle even planned on moving forward with a mobile injection site to avoid complaints from residents of a stationary site which would adversely impact the neighborhood. The plan was stalled after pushback from citizens and the threat from the US Attorney Moran.

Yet mobile injection sites are allegedly already operating in Seattle. Shilo Jama of the People's Harm Reduction Alliance (PHRA), told Kiro Radio's Dave Ross "Just to be clear, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of them. They are completely illegal, there’s no organization sponsoring them," he said. "They are citizens of Seattle who have created spaces so people who already were using in those areas had a place to go."

PHRA also operates needle exchanges around the city and receives grants from the City of Seattle. While injection sites are supposed to be 1-1 exchanges, Seattle Homeless response teams have found boxes of unused needles in encampments near exchange sites as well as thousands of needles in parks and other public spaces around the city.

Jama, AKA Shilo Murphy has been a longtime advocate for the injection sites. He has advocated for normalizing drug users behavior and even posted videos on Youtube showing addicts how to inject heroin.

Another name on the committee advocating for the injection sites is Lisa Dugaard, director of Seattle/ King County’s Law enforcement Assisted Diversion program. The LEAD program 'diverts' criminal offenders to 'treatment' rather than incarceration. Yet the effectiveness of the program has been challenged by many in Seattle including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan who ordered an audit of the program last year. The effectiveness of the program is difficult to assess because public data about the program has not been posted on their website or released in years despite numerous requests including three from The Post Millennial last week.

Seattle has been plagued by prolific offenders who are arrested and then 'released to treatment' and not jailed or prosecuted. LEAD's funding has been traced to extremist activist groups like the Open Society Foundation including the $4 million to start the program.

The Open Society Foundation funds de-policing programs like LEAD and efforts to legalize injection sites across the country.

Employees of Open Society like Sarah Evans work with cities across the country to channel funding to these efforts

Despite mounting evidence of the failure of the sites and opposition from residents and businesses, proponents of injection sites including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle City Council are already planning for the anticipated legal challenges to the sites as stated in the Project Description.

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