On Monday, a local organization called Protect Public Health filed a lawsuit to block I-27, an initiative banning King County and Seattle from piloting two proposed supervised consumption sites. The lawsuit is right – under state law, the King County Board of Health has exclusive responsibility for responding to public health crises. Management of public health is not an appropriate question for the initiative process.
As a crucial stakeholder in trying to mitigate the heroin epidemic, the City of Seattle should intervene in the lawsuit in support of the plaintiffs. Every city should retain its ability to chart its own course to protect public health and serve the most vulnerable.
In late 2015, I proposed the creation of the Seattle-King County Heroin and Opiate Addiction Task Force to bring health professionals, first responders, and law enforcement officials together to make recommendations improving our response to this crisis. Mayor Murray and Executive Constantine formally launched the Task Force and I served as a member. The Task Force made recommendations on new prevention initiatives, expanded treatment options, and user health programs to save lives. The recommendations the Task Force sent to the King County Board of Health were approved by a 12-0 vote and were also supported by the Executive and Mayor.
As the former public safety advisor to the Mayor of Seattle, I witnessed first-hand the public health crisis and public safety strain created by the heroin epidemic. On a daily basis, fire fighters, police officers, business owners and residents responded to people overdosing in public places. In the last three years, over one hundred people have died of an overdose on the streets of Seattle and many more deaths have been narrowly averted.
In May, I took a trip with elected officials from New York and California to see Vancouver, B.C.’s supervised consumption site, called Insite. While there, we witnessed medical professionals respond to people who overdosed at the facility. If those overdoses had occurred in a back alley, park, or bathroom stall, odds are that some would have died.
Insite is by no means perfect, and there are things that I would do differently, but it’s an important start. The status quo – people using drugs in public places and dying in record numbers without basic medical attention – is simply not working. We need to try innovative approaches to this crisis and that’s why I support a pilot supervised consumption site in Seattle.
Importantly, the American Medical Association is calling for supervised consumption pilot programs. The time has come to try something new. Seattle must preserve the right to do so, even if other cities exercise their rights to not permit supervised consumption.