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Two perspectives on Insite, Vancouver’s safe injection program

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray took this photo while at Insite, a safe injection center in Vancouver, B.C. (City of Seattle)

As King County officials move toward establishing two safe injection sites for drug users, a Bothell city council member hopes to stop them before they get too far. And he’s using Initiative 27 to do it.

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I-27 would ban any drug consumption sites in King County.

“The initiative process is a way that we can have a voice as voters to let the powers-that-be know our position on the issue,” said Bothell Councilmember Joshua Freed, who is spearheading the initiative effort.

Two safe injection sites have been proposed for the region — one in Seattle and another in the county. They are partially modeled after the Insite facility in Vancouver B.C. Insite has operated since 2003 and has provided a place for drug users to consume illegal drugs while under medical supervision. Overdoses can be immediately treated. But Freed is adamant that such facilities are the wrong response to the opiate epidemic.

“Ultimately, it’s an enabling type of facility,” he said. “I’ve gone up to Canada and visited the Insite location … and walked around the streets for a couple hours and talked to many of the users. I went into Insite and saw what was going in inside the facility … I see it as a step toward an overdose. The more you take drugs, it leads you more toward that overdose that ultimately leads to death.”

Insight into Insite

Freed said that the area around the Vancouver safe injection site is trashed with needles on the ground. He also notes that overdose deaths in British Columbia have risen in recent years despite Insite’s presence. But while Freed spent a couple hours walking the streets around the facility, Travis Lupick spends his life there. The journalist lives across the street from the Vancouver safe injection site and has often reported on the facility and the opiate epidemic. He’s heard people describe the area as Freed has.

“That is an accurate depiction, nobody can argue with that,” Lupick said. “But it’s a little bit disingenuous to describe that picture without noting that it was there long before Insite. The problems came first, and Insite was selected for that location to address them. To say that it’s a rough neighborhood because Insite is there is simply not true.”

Lupick, a resident of the neighborhood, is happy Insite is there. Otherwise, the area would be much worse, he said. Lupick argues that while there are syringes found in public, there are far less than before the facility opened. Overdoses in public places have decreased as well.

“The business improvement association, the retailers that work in this area fought Insite before it opened but are now huge supporters of it,” Lupick said. “They see less people in the streets around their businesses, they see less needles in the streets around their businesses, and they see less crime around their businesses.”

Lupick understands the logic of arguments that safe injection sites will invite crime and drug users to trash a neighborhood. But in his experience, that hasn’t been the case for his area.

“Insite found that wasn’t the case, and business owners around Insite found that wasn’t the case,” he said. “Try and talk to the people in Vancouver who opposed Insite before it opened, because they are some of its biggest supporters now.”

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