It’s official — a supervised consumption site will never cross into Issaquah’s city limits.
After enacting a six-month moratorium on the sites last October, the Issaquah City Council unanimously voted on Monday to permanently ban the sites, which have also been called Community Health Engagement Locations.
Based on a recommendation by its Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, King County intends to open up two sites to give addicts a place to access clean needles (and thereby reduce the spread of bloodborne illnesses), get information on rehab as well as medical treatment, and inject drugs in the presence of medical professionals who can help in the case of an overdose.
In banning the sites, Issaquah joins a long list of cities — including Bellevue, Sammamish, Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, Black Diamond, Burien, Maple Valley, Renton and SeaTac — that took permanent action to ensure that the two sites are not housed in their jurisdictions.
While the majority of speakers at public meetings over the past few months have urged the city to ban supervised consumption sites, there has been a vocal group — including parents of young people who died of heroin overdoses — that has emphasized to the city that consumption sites save lives.
“When this topic first came up, I was very moved by stories from members of the community who have lost loved ones to overdoses from opioids,” Councilmember Paul Winterstein said. “It’s hard to say no to a parent who is pursuing something that they think would have saved a lost child.”
Council President Tola Marts acknowledged that the council had heard from both sides of the issue, but pointed out that Issaquah would never have been a realistic candidate for a consumption site in the first place.
“There was never a significant chance that there would be a CHEL site here,” he said. “This is not the hottest end of the county for this problem, thank goodness.”
Winterstein did say that for those whose lives have been forever changed by the opioid crisis, it’s “unfortunate that we’re just kind of forever blocking [consumption sites].”
“If you’ve been rocked by it, it does feel like you’re being hit in the face with the problem yet again. I’m not sure we needed this sledgehammer to do this … and I apologize to any one of our citizens … who feels that this proposed action is a real slam against them, a slam against their humanity and a slam against their loved ones. It shouldn’t be interpreted that way, but I’m sorry if it feels that way.”
Councilmember Bill Ramos also said he regretted “that we had to go through this and cause folks a lot of pain,” as well as the idea of taking action to ban something that was never suggested for Issaquah in the first place.
“To ban something that’s never happened in the U.S. to me seems a strong thing to do, and I’m not sure why it had to be done,” he said.
Councilmember Stacy Goodman called the measure a precaution, saying it was “prudent on the city’s behalf to take this action when other cities are doing the same.”
Ramos also criticized the fact that the process of banning CHELs had largely taken place “without public discussion.”
A Dec. 19 letter from the Issaquah Human Services Commission said that while Issaquah was “likely not an appropriate location for a safe injection site … the process could have involved more space for education and discussion broadly,” and asked for a “more in-depth and thorough review of literature, available science, and expert testimony to inform both decision-makers and the public.”
Mayor Mary Lou Pauly agreed that the public needed to be included in the future. She thanked the administration for “a very thoughtful discussion,” but noted that she was hearing from the council that “if this subject or a similar subject is to be discussed again, it really should be starting with a community conversation.”
Deputy Council President Mariah Bettise was not present for the vote.