Washington lawmaker calls feds over safe injection sites

Feb 22, 2017, 4:39 PM | Updated: 6:37 pm
injection sites...
State Senator Mark Miloscia has written to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking him to intervene in King County and Seattle's decision to start safe injection sites. (AP)

State Senator Mark Miloscia has written to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an attempt at gaining federal intervention to halt plans for safe injection sites in King County.

A plan approved by county health officials aims to place one safe injection site in Seattle, and another in the greater King County area. The sites would allow for drug addicts to use illegal substances under medical supervision. If users overdose, treatment would be immediately available. The city says no enforcement of drug laws will take place at the safe injection sites.

Related: King County, Seattle approve two safe injection sites for drug addicts

But Miloscia is calling foul. The senator from the 30th Legislative District — representing the cities of Des Moines, Federal Way and Auburn — wrote a letter to Sessions earlier this month asking for “immediate intervention,” and for the Department of Justice to step in. Sessions is known for his strict opposition to the legalization of drugs.

Stating that Washington could set a “dangerous precedent in the United States, in violation of federal law,” Miloscia writes:

Instead of helping, King County is promoting a culture of toleration, diverting precious resources away from treatment, and using an ideological platform to build a permissive society … it is reasonable to believe once the doors to injection sites open, they will continue to spread to other parts of our state, and eventually to other communities across our nation.

Creation of drug injection sites is part of a broader effort to decriminalize and normalize illegal drug use. I request your immediate intervention into the unconscionable actions of King County, Washington. If I may be of assistance in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter.

In his letter, Miloscia says that local officials are modeling their safe injections sites after a similar program in Vancouver, BC — a program he argues has failed as overdose deaths in British Columbia have risen in recent years.

Miloscia, Sessions and safe injection sites

This is not the first time the senator has attempted to thwart King County and Seattle’s safe injection plan. Miloscia has promoted his Senate Bill 5223, which would essentially withhold funding from any county that allowed a safe injection site. It is specifically targeted at King County and Seattle’s plans. Currently, SB 5223 is going through the committee process.

It is not yet known where the safe injection sites would be located, only that two are slated for the region. The majority of drug overdoses in the area occur in downtown Seattle and usually involve opiates. The theory behind the injection sites is to save lives with more immediate medical assistance when someone overdoses. Health officials also aim to move public drug use, and its byproducts — discarded syringes, overdoses, deaths — indoors.

Dr. Caleb Banta-Green was part of the task force that recommended the sites to health officials. In October, he said:

What we’ve seen so far, the evidence is that they will use less in public. There will be less public consumption. There will be less infection disease transmissions. And the evidence is pretty good that there will be less overdose deaths.

Miloscia argues otherwise — that the sites are the wrong solution. He promotes treatment over injection sites. Both Miloscia and local officials — such as Seattle Mayor Ed Murray — have toured Insite, Vancouver’s safe injection program. They each walked away with different impressions. Murray and other officials have moved forward with implementing similar programs. Miloscia has moved forward with legislation to stop them.

The Senate recently confirmed Sessions as President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general. The long-time senator from Alabama is known for his opposition to drugs, even legalized marijuana. States with legalized recreational marijuana have watched closely as he took on the federal job — marijuana is still illegal under federal laws. If Sessions is opposed to state’s decisions over marijuana, it is possible he will take a stiffer approach to harder drugs, such as heroin.

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Washington lawmaker calls feds over safe injection sites