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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 20, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 42
Judge bars I-27 from ballot

Measure sought to ban safe consumption spaces
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Judge bars I-27 from ballot

Measure sought to ban safe consumption spaces

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A King County Superior Court Judge has barred I-27 from the ballot, meaning there will be no challenge to the county's plans to open supervised safe consumption spaces for people with substance abuse issues.

In her October 16 ruling, Judge Veronica Alicea-Galván wrote that I-27 is 'invalid, null, and void because it extends beyond the scope of the local initiative power' and cannot appear on the February 2018 ballot.

I-27 would have outlawed supervised consumption spaces, which are public health facilities where people who use drugs can do so in a medically supervised environment while gaining access to treatment.

A lawsuit challenging the initiative was filed in August by Protect Public Health, an organization made up of public health experts and family members of people who have died as a result of drug overdoses. Protect Public Health supports evidence-based public health policies, including supervised consumption spaces.

Knoll Lowney, the attorney for Protect Public Health who argued the case before Judge Alicea-Galván, said that the judge made the correct legal decision.

'State law is clear that public health decisions need to be made by public health authorities in consultation with experts, as the county's supervised consumption space policy was. Those sorts of complex health decisions are beyond the scope of the local initiative power,' Lowney said.

Protect Public Health leaders also hailed the judge's ruling that public health policy is not subject to veto by a citizen initiative.

'This is a major victory for public health and will allow us to take the steps we need to implement an effective harm reduction approach to help those suffering from addiction to get the help that they need,' said Dr. Bob Wood, the former director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health-Seattle & King County.

'If I-27 was allowed to go to the ballot, other critically important and effective public health policies would also have been put at risk, including needle exchange programs, or even vaccination requirements.'

According to public health advocates, the evidence supporting the effectiveness of supervised consumption spaces is overwhelming.

'Around 100 supervised consumption spaces currently operate in Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands, and multiple studies show that these sites save lives and can help to connect people struggling with substance abuse to the services they need,' said Michael Ninburg, executive director of the Hepatitis Education Project and another member of Protect Public Health.

'These 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. Our current approach to the opioid crisis isn't working. We need to do more, and opening two supervised consumption spaces in King County will allow us to do so.'

The opening of two pilot supervised consumption space sites 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, and those recommendations were adopted by the Board of Health.

In 2016, there were 332 overdoses in King County, 70% of which involved opiates. The task force also recommended expanded prevention programing and treatment services. I-27 is in direct conflict with the task force's evidence-based recommendations on supervised consumption space sites.

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