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King County prosecutor: Trump, Sessions wrong about safe injection sites

A mural encourages people to pick up the overdose antidote Narcan at a nearby "safe injection site" on the east side of downtown Vancouver, Canada. (AP Photo/Jeremy Hainsworth)

The latest schism between Washington and the federal government could be over safe injection sites. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says the Northwest may face a legal battle.

“It’s really a very blunt instrument that they’re using to threaten a public health intervention,” Satterberg told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “That’s the part that irritates all of us. This administration has done nothing about the crisis that killed 65,000 Americans last year, and now they are rattling their sabers to stop some innovations that public health officials think might work and save lives.”

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That “blunt instrument” is a legal statute called the “crack house statute.” It originated in the 1980s and was designed to deter building owners from allowing people to use their properties for drug profiteering, or places where drugs are sold, Satterberg explained. It’s what governments on the East Coast have been faced with after federal attorneys ordered them to stop efforts to create safe injection sites. Vermont is currently facing off with a US attorney over the issue.

Safe injection arguments

Satterberg says that if one U.S. attorney will act against safe injection sites, it is likely that others will, too — even in Washington state. Seattle and King County are currently considering two such facilities. But he argues that the crack house statute does not apply to safe injection sites, which do not sell drugs. Their purpose is entirely the opposite of a profiteering crack house, he said.

“It’s the purpose and intent of a safe consumption site to reduce the harm associated with drug use, including fatal overdoses,” he said. “But it’s more than that. We’ve had needle exchanges for more than 40 years. This is a needle exchange plus medical intervention.”

The sites also provide staff who are trained to treat overdoses. They also are designed to connect addicts with medical treatment for their addictions. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration fails to understand some basic fact around safe injection sites, Satterberg said.

“They need to look at the evidence,” he said. “This administration doesn’t have much regard for science, but there have been extensive studies on the 90 safe consumption sites already working in Europe, and Canada, and all over the world. And it’s proven to be an effective place; for that connection to be made between a medical professional and a drug user who may want help. The evidence is there, they are choosing not to look at it. And they are using it for political purposes.”

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