The newly-approved 2018 Seattle City budget includes over $1 million to fund the creation of the nation's first safe-injection sites for intravenous drug users.
The budget calls for two facilities, one within city limits and one outside the city. At the facilities, people will be able to inject drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can administer life-saving treatment in the case of an overdose. They will also be able to access other medical services, as well as drug addiction treatment.
The Controversy Over Seattle's Proposed Safe Injection Sites
Last year, King County's Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force recommended increasing access to the overdose treatment drug, naloxone, as well as opening two "supervised consumption" sites for drug users.
There were a record number of fatal overdoses in King County in 2016 and almost 2/3 of those deaths were due to opioids. Supporters say the safe injection sites will reduce overdose deaths and will help fight Washington's opioid epidemic, while critics say the sites would enable drug use and increase crime.
A number of Washington cities have already voted to ban safe injection sites. In October, the King County Superior Court rejected a proposed ballot initiative that would ban safe injection sites. If the Court's decision is appealed and the ballot initiative moves forward, the King County Council plans to add its own initiative to the February special election, allowing voters to decide whether to ban or support safe-injection sites.
Meanwhile, the Seattle budget requires a feasibility study to determine the appropriate location for the safe injection site within city limits.
Options for People Struggling with Addiction in Washington
Safe injection sites are one of many innovative ways the government has tried to address Washington's drug use epidemic over the years.
For example, Washington passed a "Good Samaritan" law in 2011 to encourage people to seek treatment for overdoses without worrying that they will be arrested for drug activity. According to this law, a person seeking medical assistance for themselves or for someone else experiencing a drug-related overdose will not be charged with or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance.
Drug Courts are another way Washington has tried to steer people who are struggling with addiction towards treatment, rather than incarceration. King County was one of the first locations in the nation to implement a Drug Court program, which allows certain offenders to avoid jail time while receiving the addiction treatment they need.
Despite many progressive policies and programs, under Washington's Uniform Controlled Substances Act, possession of an illegal drug other than marijuana is a felony. Violations of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act (referred to as VUSCA crimes) can result in jail time and fines, ranging from 1 day in jail and a $250 fine to 10 years in jail and $20,000 in fines.