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AG Rob McKenna argues against safe injection sites

Former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna. (AP)

Ever since King County decided to place two safe injection sites in the region, there has been vocal opposition to the plan.

Count former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna in that camp.

“I’m not a fan, because I think there’s no getting around the fact that safe injection sites, sort of, normalize heroin addiction,” McKenna told KIRO Radio’s Zak Burns. “They socialize it as something that we don’t really like, but it’s something we will, in a sense, sanction.”

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One safe injection site is slated for Seattle. Exactly where it will be located is still unknown. It is also unknown where the county plans to place the second site outside of Seattle. That hasn’t stopped cities within the county from acting ahead of time and banning the sites — including Renton, Bellevue, Federal Way, and Auburn.

A larger opposition to the plan has arisen in the form of I-27 — an initiative to ban the sites throughout King County. It is expected to appear on the ballot in February 2018. If passed by voters, it could end King County’s plans for the sites altogether.

Safe injection sites

The theory behind the safe injection sites is that they will provide a place for addicts to use illegal drugs without fear of being arrested. The hope is that they will use the service which will have medical professionals on hand to counter any overdoses. They will also serve as a point of contact for treatment.

“I understand the argument on the other side,” McKenna said. “I actually got an email from a mom who heard I was opposed to safe injection sites. She made the argument that her son is a heroin addict, and is less likely to die from an overdose if he can shoot up at an injection site. It’s literally the question of saving some lives; maybe we will save some lives.”

“But you have to think it through farther than that, in my view,” he said. “It may be that some people are less likely to die if they can go to a safe injection site, but the extent we continue to normalize and socialize the behavior of using heroin and similar drugs, then that means that more people are going to become users and are going to become addicted.”

McKenna clarified that he doesn’t think that people will take up heroin just because there is a facility to shoot up. Rather, he wants society to maintain that the drug use is bad.

“…it sends a broader message about drug use and, inevitably, people will start talking about legalizing heroin use,” he said. “I think it’s predicable.”

Beyond the more personal aspects of the sites, McKenna also approaches it from a legal standpoint.

“It’s not going to be a desirable land use … people are going to see a lot of difficult side effects in the surrounding areas,” he said. “So a lot of cities rushing to say they don’t want one in their community … because you don’t want the criminal activity and drug use from people on heroin around that area.”

“I also worry about the liability for tax payers with local governments setting these things up,” McKenna said. “When, inevitably, someone dies at a safe injection site from an overdose, there is going to be a lawsuit. I worry about that.”

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