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New bill could force heroin, opioid users into treatment

(AP file photo)

People struggling with heroin addiction and other opioids could be hospitalized against their will under a bill proposed by a Washington state lawmaker.

The measure would expand the current Involuntary Treatment Act by including heroin and opioid users under “gravely disabled,” which means they are at risk of physical harm due to an inability to care for their immediate needs of health and safety.

Related: Seattle, King County set new record for overdose deaths

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, told KIRO Radio, “I want the ability for parents who are heartstricken about their adult kids in that situation to be able to have the power to force them off the streets where they’re victimized and will very likely die from an overdose to be able to get treatment.”

Under Senate Bill 5811, a person could be detained if, within a 12-month period, they’ve had three or more arrests connected to substance abuse, had one or more hospitalizations related to drug abuse or if they have three or more visible track marks indicating intravenous heroin use.

O’Ban, who has also introduced legislation to block safe injection sites in Washington state, explained that the idea would be to get the user to the point where he/she recognizes they need treatment and they can continue that after they’re released.

One of the biggest challenges will be to fully fund treatment because O’Ban recognizes that the state doesn’t have the capacity to handle all heroin addicts. He’s considering a modification to SB-5811 that will help parents help pay for treatment.

“We could certainly craft this bill so that it would apply to parents who want to get their kids off the street, but don’t have the legal authority to force them into treatment, but who could pay for it or whose insurance policy could pay for it,” O’Ban said.

The senator said his bill most likely won’t advance this session due to budget constraints, but said the point of it was to start a discussion.

“I think the bill does need to be worked and we have to figure out how to fund this,” O’Ban said. “It’s obviously a huge crisis we have to deal with and we can’t just hope it goes away. It’s not going to go away.”

O’Ban worries about stronger opioids making their way from Canada across the border into Washington state.

According to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, 37 states and the District of Columbia have statutes in place allowing for the involuntary commitment of individuals suffering from substance use disorder, alcoholism, or both.

Seattle and King County set a new record for fatal overdoses with 359 deaths in 2016, according to new data from the King County Medical Examiner’s office.

According to Seattle Fire Department records requested by KIRO 7, the overwhelming majority are in public places including, including city hall, the Central Library, Municipal Court, downtown Macy’s, the Nordstrom flagship store and Met Market in Queen Anne.

In a recent KIRO 7 News investigative report, we mapped out where overdosing cases happen.  Here’s a map of the first half of 2016.

Related: Murray says if you’re pro-life, pro-choice you’ll support safe injection sites

Heroin-injection sites are expected to come to King County. Safe injection sites are designated clinics where addicts can shoot up legally.

Proponents of a “safe consumption site” point to a similar housing operation in Seattle, where 75 alcoholics can drink in their rooms and have access to on-site treatment services. Studies show the operation saved taxpayers millions in housing and crisis services annually and decreased alcohol consumption in residents. Opponents of a safe injection sites say a consumption site condones drug use.

KIRO 7 contributed to this story.

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