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Should Seattle force treatment for severe drug addicts and mentally ill?

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Studies have shown strong links between drug addiction and mental illness with homelessness. San Francisco just passed a controversial program that takes an aggressive approach to these issues. City authorities can now force those with debilitating mental illness and drug addiction into treatment.

Should Seattle consider the same?

For KIRO Radio’s John Curley, the issue is a medical one, and such actions may be appropriate when people need help, despite concerns about civil liberties.

“With an individual laying there on the street, let’s say that they’re not mentally incompetent, let’s say they’re bleeding profusely from the stomach. Wouldn’t we come along and assist them in some way?” he asked. “The state would step in and say for your own good in order to protect you we will remove you from the sidewalk and put you in an ambulance and get you care.”

“The problem is how long are you going to be, in effect, treated against your will,” wondered co-host Tom Tangney. “That is that’s what’s tricky about this issue.”

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Though controversial, the proposal passed 10-1, and will apply to those on the street who have been put in emergency psychiatric care more than eight times a year, reports KPIX 5. Many of San Francisco’s homeless advocates oppose the plan, and are concerned with there being enough psychiatric beds for such an aggressive form of treatment.

The latest homeless count for Seattle/King County showed that there are 11,199 people experiencing homelessness countywide. Nearly two thirds (64 percent) of the homeless surveyed were living with at least one health condition. Psychiatric or emotional issues, post-traumatic stress, and drug or alcohol abuse all came in at 30 percent or above.

“Are you a more compassionate society respecting the civil rights of the individual laying there in their own filth, and coming to every once in a while, with just enough sobriety to break the window of somebody’s car to steal something?” Curley asked.

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At the moment, the San Francisco program is partially seen as a move to avoid such a measure going to the ballot in a more comprehensive form.

“Because if it went to the ballot, what would happen? In San Francisco, even a liberal at some point gains their senses and realizes ‘Wow we have a serious problem that we’re not really addressing,'” Curley said.

“We’re only gaining our senses enough to hold off the wackos like you that would do worse,” Tom countered. “You’d want to lock up anybody who’s homeless, mentally ill or drug addicted — you’d put them all on McNeil Island. That’s not a healthy approach, John.”

“It’s a nice island,” joked Curley.

Listen to the Tom and Curley Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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