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Senator Seeks to Ban Safe Injection Sites In Washington

By Kelly Burch 01/23/17

“Standing idly by while addicts abuse illegal drugs is not compassionate, and it does not solve the problem.”

Insite safe injection facility in Vancouver
Insite safe injection facility in Vancouver Photo via YouTube

A Washington state senator has introduced a bill that would ban safe injection sites, in a preemptive move against the recommended opening of two safe injection sites in King County, which includes Seattle.

Senator Mark Miloscia, a Republican, is advocating for a bill that would ban the sites by taking away local authority to create them. “We must stop the push for decriminalization of drugs,” Miloscia said, while noting that the state should not be facilitating drug use. “Standing idly by while addicts abuse illegal drugs is not compassionate, and it does not solve the problem.”

Last year, a Heroin Task Force formed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine suggested that the county open two safe injection sites in order to fight overdose deaths in the city. Although the sites would not make drug use legal, they would provide a safe space where users could inject and also find information about treatment, proponents say. 

“In a nutshell, the idea is not really to give people a place to inject drugs and then go about their lives but really a way that they can inject safely off the street, out of doorways, out of alleyways—hygienic conditions to minimize their risk of infection, such as HIV; to minimize their risk of overdose and to minimize the stigmatization and social rejection that keeps a lot of these people out of the health care system in the first place,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, the health officer for King County told NPR last fall. 

Seattle officials decided to move forward with the plan despite the political risks. “If it’s a strategy that saves lives … then regardless of the political discomfort I think it is something we have to move forward,” Constantine said in September. 

However, Miloscia’s bill may be the biggest obstacle the plan has had to face. The senator said that safe injection sites would be a “disaster,” and that he has visited similar centers in Vancouver and seen that they have “failed.” He does not believe that establishing sites in King County would ease the effects of the opioid epidemic: “I think King County, my county, is pouring gasoline on the fire.”

In order to become law, Miloscia’s bill would have to pass the Washington Senate and House of Representatives, which seems unlikely with Democrats controlling the House, said writer Tom James of Crosscut. In the meantime, it appears King County will move forward with the pilot sites.  

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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