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Fate of safe injection sites in King County could be up to voters

Richard and Corri. (Courtesy of Corri)

Voters could decide the fate of safe injection sites in King County, as officials work to set up two facilities in the region.

Safe King County says it has gathered 70,000 signatures to qualify a proposal for the ballot that would ban safe injection sites in the county. A total of 47,000 legitimate signatures are needed. The petition was turned into the King County Council at its meeting Monday afternoon. If validated by the county election’s office, a measure will appear on the November ballot giving King County voters the opportunity to approve or deny a safe injection ban.

Two safe sites are currently in the planning phase for King County, one within Seattle city limits.

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Corri was the first person to sign the petition for I-27. Her brother Richard died after more than 20 years using heroin. With his suffering over, Corri told KIRO Radio’s Kim Shepard she wants to honor his memory by sharing some of his last wishes.

“He had been watching the news on his phone and he goes, ‘Can you believe these idiots now?'” Corri recalled.

While Richard was hospitalized with kidney failure, he told Corri safe injection sites would not work for a number of reasons. First of all, most people addicted to a drug would be afraid to use the facilities, he explained to her.

“Fear of being arrested because you have an outstanding warrant,” she said. “Fear of you walking in with dope in your pocket; you’re going to get jumped before you get in there. And you’re going to walk out higher than a kite; you’re going to get beat down again.”

Corri says one of the biggest concerns about the current opioid crisis is the lack of space at treatment facilities. When somebody addicted to drugs is ready to get clean, there isn’t a way to begin the process immediately.

Support for safe injection sites

Proponents of safe sites argue that they will reduce the presence of public drug consumption and cut down on overdose deaths while providing outreach to people looking to get clean.

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Chemical dependency professional Kevin Toth addressed the council Monday after the petition was turned in. He noted that he is an addict with 6.5 years of abstinence from drugs or alcohol.

“What is clearly lost on opponents is that the prohibition of opioids only exacerbated the public health crisis,” Toth said. “If legislation against substance use were all that was needed to discourage substance use we should be the healthiest nation in the world. However, we are not. Further legislation against substance use will not help opioid users.”

Toth was among a range of health social workers, nurses and other medical professionals who spoke out in favor of the safe injection sites.

County officials are also behind the effort.

“These are locations that are public health services, that provide a safe space for people who are already using drugs in public spaces,” Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin previously said during a live event. “… allow them to come indoors, under the supervision of a healthcare worker, use their drugs and have an overdose reversed if they should suffer from an overdose …”

“Certainly, we don’t believe someone should be pushed out onto the street after they are given clean injection equipment … and told to go inject in an alleyway, or in a restroom of a coffee shop, unattended, where you could die alone when we could save a life,” he continued.

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