Initiative proposed to ban heroin safe-injection sites in King County

The proposed initiative to ban heroin safe-injection sites in King County was launched by local officials. Next step is collecting more than 47,000 signatures to place the measure on the November ballot.

An initiative to ban safe-injection sites in King County for heroin and other drugs was announced Thursday.

The proposed initiative requires signatures from 47,443 valid county voters to qualify for the November ballot, said its chief sponsor, Bothell City Councilmember Joshua Freed.

A task force created by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine last year recommended creation of two safe-injection sites — one in Seattle and one in another King County site. Murray and Constantine endorsed the panel’s recommendations.

Similar to a facility in Vancouver, B.C., that’s operated since 2003, the King County safe-injection sites would be the first in the U.S. They aim to reduce fatal overdoses and get users out of public alleys and into sites supervised by medical personnel who will encourage treatment options. Advocates say they are just one of the tools needed to address a heroin and opiate crisis.

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In King County, overdose deaths tied to heroin nearly tripled from 49 in 2009 to 132 in 2015.

Freed, a homebuilder, said public-consumption sites are not the appropriate response. “I don’t want to see heroin-injection sites because I do not believe they are the right way to treat people addicted to heroin,” said Freed, who was licensed as a mental-health counselor with the state from 2001-06.

The sites would enable users and lead to more overdoses, he said, adding, “This initiative is not against the user.”

He said he’d prefer an emphasis on discouraging doctors from prescribing opiates, expanding access to treatment, and making sure local police officers and firefighters are equipped with the overdose-reducing drug naloxone.

Also scheduled to spearhead the initiative at a Thursday news conference were state Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, and Speak Out Seattle, a coalition representing the Ballard, Phinney, Queen Anne, Greenwood and Magnolia neighborhoods that says it’s concerned with public safety, homelessness and heroin, opiate and methamphetamine addiction.

The initiative would ban public consumption of heroin and all federal Schedule I drugs except marijuana. It’s legal for adults to possess up to an ounce of pot in Washington, but state law prohibits public consumption.

Miloscia, who toured the Vancouver facility, has been an outspoken opponent of safe-injection sites, unsuccessfully proposing a bill in the Legislature to ban them. He also wrote a letter urging the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene and stop the sites.

Miloscia has told The Seattle Times he sees safe-injection sites as a step toward decriminalization and legalization of heroin. An opponent of marijuana legalization…

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