Seattle debates safe consumption sites as heroin epidemic plagues nation

There's more debate over the heroin epidemic plaguing much of the nation.

Before public comment began, King County Council members were already striking the gavel to calm a rowdy front row of upset people hoping for more than one minute to comment on safe injection sites.

“If you cannot be quiet, you will be ejected from the meeting,” Seattle City Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles said.

About 50 people showed up to the King County Council meeting on Tuesday.

Related: Initiative would ban safe injection sites in King County

A special task force taking on heroin and opiate addiction had recommended creating at least two Community Health Engagement Locations (CHELs), where people who use drugs can use safely and under supervision.

“I support consumption sites, because right now my whole neighborhood is a consumption site. We have found used needles steps from our door. My son asked me one day as we passed two people crouched in a doorway, 'Mom, what were they doing?'” Lauri Watkins of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood said.

About 156 people died in King County from heroin overdoses in 2014, which is the highest since 1997, according to a report from the Health, Housing and Human Services Committee.

“Thirty years ago, King County went forward with needle exchange when it was political poison to bring it up. Because of that the HIV occurrence and drug use in King County is remarkably low,” addiction physician Jay Walsh said.

Former addict Turine James told stories of personal struggle.

“Just a year and seven months ago I was out there with all of them. Without harm reduction, without these different drop in centers available to us, I don’t think I would have come out of it. These safe consumption sites are very important,” James said.

While other community members doubted the county’s ability.

“What message do we send to our children when we essentially legalize heroin? I’d like to think this plan of yours will work but you don’t have a really good track record of making much of anything work in Seattle,” Avril said.

The task force cites successes in reducing overdose deaths at safe consumption sites in other countries such as Canada.

However, Cindy Pierce with the Neighborhood Safety Alliance says she visited Vancouver’s site.

“What I witnessed within the three-plus block area was total, utter chaos: open drug deals, children being pushed around in strollers by their addicted parents, lines of semi-conscious people laying out on the sidewalk, and a huge piece – open prostitution,” Pierce said.

Related: Inside the Vancouver, B.C. drug injection site

With much to consider, councilmembers put off any action until their next meeting on June 6. 

© 2017 KING-TV


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