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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 25, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 34
Health experts sue to block I-27 from ballot

Initiative would ban safe injection sites
Section One
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Health experts sue to block I-27 from ballot

Initiative would ban safe injection sites

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A lawsuit challenging I-27 - a King County initiative that would ban Supervised Consumption Spaces (SCS) - was filed on August 21 by a coalition of public health experts and families of people who have died from drug overdoses.

SCS are public health facilities where people with substance abuse issues can use drugs in a clean and safe environment and also have access to treatment.

The opening of two pilot SCS programs was recommended by the King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force in 2016 as part of a comprehensive public health response to the region's opiate epidemic. The task force also recommended expanded prevention programming and treatment services.

In 2016, there were 332 overdoses in King County. Seventy percent involved opiates. Health officials hope that SCS will significantly reduce the number of drug-related deaths.

The coalition suing to protect SCS from I-27 calls itself Protect Public Health.

Bothell City Council member Joshua Freed spearheaded the campaign to ban SCS in King County, even though he lives across the county line in Snohomish County. The sites would encourage addicts to move to the area, Freed said.

On the contrary, health professionals responded. SCS programs 'are proven to reduce the risk of fatal overdose and prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, as well as to reduce outdoor drug use in neighborhoods,' the pro-SCS campaign said in an August 21 press release.

'These spaces also promote access to chemical dependency treatment and other supportive care, and increase public safety,' the press statement continues. 'Around one hundred SCSs operate currently in Australia, Europe, and Canada.'

'I-27 would set a dangerous precedent for public health. Supervised Consumption Spaces are an essential tool in fighting the opiate epidemic.' Dr. Bob Wood, Director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health-Seattle & King County from 1986 to 2010 and member of Protect Public Health noted, 'If I-27 succeeds, other public health policies could be at risk, including vaccination requirements, needle exchange programs, or even efforts to combat sexually transmitted diseases.'

Michael Roberts, who founded Amber's HOPE after losing his daughter Amber to a heroin overdose, also opposes I-27.

'My family knows much too well that people who die never have another chance,' Roberts said.

'They never get to recover. I never want another parent to suffer the loss of a child. Supervised consumption spaces save lives. Treatment is of paramount importance, but we need to keep people alive if they are ever going to get there.'

Turina James, who is in recovery from opiate addiction, said that 'I-27 is the wrong approach because it forces people into unsupervised injections spaces such as bathrooms and alleys.

'Since I did not have access to a sterile space and supervision. I contracted an infection that nearly cost me my arm,' James continued. 'SCS finally gives people the opportunity to be safer and hopefully puts them on the road for treatment and recovery.'

I-27 qualified for the ballot on August 17, too late to go on the November ballot. The King County Council could vote a special exception and allow it to go to a vote in November, or it could direct it to a special election in February 2018.

County Council member Kathy Lambert, a Republican, reportedly wanted to move for the November date, but the lawsuit has blocked efforts to move I-27 forward, at least temporarily.

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