Column: Keep Safe Injection Sites out of King County

Last week we launched Initiative 27, an effort to ban Dow Constantine’s proposed heroin injection sites in King County and demand proven, compassionate solutions to get people off drugs and save lives before any more are lost from this opioid crisis.

Our coalition is broad and diverse. We have people from all walks of life and political stripes helping us gather the 47,443 signatures needed to get I-27 on November’s ballot.

But the person we are most honored to have on our team is Corri Durant, a Seattle woman whose brother was diagnosed with kidney failure due to years of heroin abuse last October and died in March. Corri’s courage to stand with us at our kickoff and tell her story about her brother’s last wish to stop heroin injection sites was a powerful moment and we can’t thank her enough for joining us.

Over the weekend, we visited the neighborhood home to North America’s first injection site in Vancouver, B.C. to talk with more people directly impacted by this crisis.

People suffering from addiction line Hastings Street, home to InSite, a facility for addicts to consume narcotics. But as we learned, just because the facility exists doesn’t mean people actually use them. We witnessed people shooting heroin and smoking crack cocaine more times than we could count. Those not consuming lay on the sidewalk in physical and emotional pain.

According to estimates from the Vancouver Police department, more than 5,000 intravenous drug users call the few blocks surrounding InSite home. We asked a police officer if that figure was right. At least 5,000, he said.

Since InSite opened in 2003, overdose deaths have skyrocketed by 450 percent.

We met a homeless man, and injection site user, named Marcel in front of a memorial to the lives lost from drug addiction. Marcel’s story is similar to many addicts’, but it’s his and he was more than comfortable sharing it.

Years ago, a muscle ripped completely off his kneecap, leaving him in excruciating pain that his doctor prescribed opioids to help him cope with.  After surgery and some rehab, he began feeling better but couldn’t stop depending on the pain medication. He ended up homeless, broke, and turning to heroin.

Two weeks ago, Marcel overdosed. He was dead for 40 minutes before paramedics were finally able to revive him. Marcel continues to use drugs, but he’s honest. He fears that he will end up like 13 victims that all died from an overdose in an apartment complex just a couple buildings down from Insite, and he expressed over and over that he wished the police would arrest drug dealers for murder.

I-27 isn’t about shaming addicts but rather focusing on bringing them help through proper treatment and stopping dangerous injection sites that clearly have not worked elsewhere. According to InSite’s own numbers, over 6500 people used their facility in 2015 but only 252 completed treatment to get clean. That’s less than four percent.

As Corri Durant’s story shows, long-term heroin use leads to death. We can defeat this crisis, but it will take a desire to get people off the drugs that are killing them.

If you’d like to sign a petition to get I-27 on the ballot, you can request one at www.SafeKingCounty.org.

Joshua Freed
Chairman, Citizens for a Safe King County

Keith Schipper
Campaign Manager, Citizens for a Safe King County

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