Seattle mayor responds to safe injection threat from U.S. Attorney

Apr 4, 2019, 7:04 AM | Updated: Apr 5, 2019, 9:23 am
Safe injection sites...
Safe injection sites have long been controversial in the U.S. (AP)

U.S. Attorney Brian Moran had some choice words for Seattle regarding its plans to move forward with a safe injection site: “Don’t go there.”

RELATED: Will new lawsuit impact Seattle’s plan for safe injection sites?

Speaking to both The Seattle Times and KUOW this week, Moran made it clear that the city would face a federal lawsuit should it establish its planned safe injection site.

“That’s a bridge too far for me,” he told the Times.

“I’ve talked to Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes about it — I said ‘don’t go there. Pete, don’t go there,'” he said to KUOW.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan responded to Moran’s statements Thursday night while speaking with KIRO Radio Reporter Aaron Granillo.

I think that we need to have more public health response to the opioid addiction crisis. When we had the task force come together, they made a range of recommendations and it’s not just the CHELS, or injection sites. The important things about them are they connect people with the ability to get treatment to public health options, Narcan so you don’t have overdoses. We have to try a whole bunch of tools in order to have a harm-reduction model instead of a punitive model.

I was very disappointed that the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Philadelphia, trying to stop them. And yesterday they made clear they tried to stop us. I would rather them focus their efforts on trying to stop the flow of opioids, and let us deal with the public health part. We’ve got to be part of a range of solutions.

But I also take their threat very seriously. We have to take it seriously, so I’ll be talking to counsel and community to see what the next path forward is. Pete Holmes and I, who’s the city attorney, we’ve talked about it … we are already an amicus in the lawsuit in Philadelphia … there may be some alternatives available here for us.

Safe injection issue

Seattle has aimed to establish a safe injection site within the city. A potential lawsuit over such a site would likely be centered around the “crack house” statute of the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits managing any place that enables the unlawful use of a controlled substance.

“Given the Trump Administration’s already-stated adversarial stance on this issue already, it was no surprise to hear (Moran) recommend that I ‘not go there,'” Holmes said in a statement provided to the Times. “The Administration’s position continues to be disappointing because these are sites where medical professionals can meaningfully engage with people facing addictions, offering supervision but also treatment.”

In a similar lawsuit currently filed against a Philadelphia nonprofit, U.S. Attorney William McSwain noted that it’s irrelevant if a safe injection site has altruistic intentions, as it’s still violating the rule of law.

Back in February, soon-to-be-former-councilmember Rob Johnson told Crosscut that “there’s no reason why the threat of federal lawsuits should stop us,” going to note that “for me, I think we should continue to move forward.”

Advocates have pointed out that treatment and recovery from heroin addiction through oral medications that reduce dependency are integral aspects of safe injection sites.

“What I hear from communities is ‘we’re overrun already with this problem, what can we do about it?’ My point is, people with opiate disorders use opiates every day,” Caleb Banta-Green, the principle research scientist at UW’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, told MyNorthwest back in December. “By doing nothing, you’re perpetuating them using heroin. By bringing in treatment services, you’re moving them into safe, oral medications that are taken once a day.”

The city’s current plan would establish a single Community Health Engagement Location (CHEL) in a mobile vehicle, offering seven-day-a-week, 10 hour-a-day operations.

RELATED: Seattle planned safe injection site needs another $2.5M in funding

Services for that site would include medication-assisted on-site treatment (and other various medical services), a syringe exchange, HIV/HCV screenings, social services, drug and alcohol assessments, case management, and linkages to social services for legal and housing assistance. The site still needs an additional $2.5 million from the city and King County to cover operating costs.

Seattle would be the first city in the United States to open up a safe injection site, making this uncharted territory for all involved. Cities like San Francisco, New York, and Philadelphia have mulled over safe injection sites of their own.

Concerning a potential federal lawsuit, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office told the times that it would be “unfortunate … to block a harm reduction strategy to the opioid epidemic.” The statement went on to note that the city is taking the threat of a lawsuit “seriously.”

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Seattle mayor responds to safe injection threat from U.S. Attorney