Two dozen people from Issaquah and around King County came out to Monday’s Issaquah City Council meeting to give their views during a public hearing on the safe injection site six-month moratorium voted in Oct. 16.
And from the vast majority of the 24 speakers, the message was clear: spend tax dollars on rehabilitation and treatment for users of opioids, not injection sites that allow them to keep shooting heroin.
“We’re asking for you to push for a path forward that chooses treatment first, and stand behind efforts to keep our community safe and give truly compassionate care to the most vulnerable members of society,” said Issaquah resident Veronica Garcia, who declared herself a supporter of Initiative 27.
I-27, an initiative to ban injection sites throughout King County, had been slated for the February special election ballot, but was ruled invalid by a King County Superior Court judge last month.
The King County Council voted that if the initiative is reversed and placed back on the ballot on appeal, the council would put forward its own initiative to have residents vote on placing two injection sites in the county — one in Seattle and one in another location.
Bellevue, Auburn, Federal Way, Sea-Tac, Kent, Burien and Renton have all voted to ban safe injection sites.
There are no safe injection sites in the U.S. currently. If any injection sites are established in Seattle, they will be the first ones in the country.
There are three safe injection sites in the metropolitan area of Vancouver, B.C.
Some of the speakers told very personal stories about loved ones’ experiences with opioids. Jennifer Aspelund of North Seattle described how her late brother had become addicted to heroin when he was just a teenager.
“By the time he was 20 he was stealing cars, he was robbing people, all to feed his habit,” Aspelund said. She said that in his 30s and 40s he added in alcohol and other hard drugs, a combination that eventually led to his untimely death.
According to Aspelund, injecting heroin in a safe site does not work because people addicted to drugs will never be able to make the decision to stop shooting up in the first place.
“Every day that you’re using, you’re depleting your brain cells to make a rational decision to stop,” she said. She asked the council to instead “offer 24-7 on-demand treatment,” as well as mental health services.
Barbara Lewis of Auburn also brought an emotional story, describing how her granddaughter is addicted to drugs, and how she herself, at age 70, is raising her granddaughter’s two children.
“What my granddaughter said is what they need is beds, they need places to go for treatment,” Lewis said. “They can decide today they need treatment, but they can’t get into a treatment bed for six weeks. And lots can change in the meantime — they can change their minds.”
Christi Kallstrom of Issaquah said that her children’s father is addicted to illegal substances, and has not been able to see his children due to being in and out of jail.
“Please don’t bring this here because I really don’t want drugs back in my life,” she said. “I worked so hard to get away from that.”
Issaquah resident Ivan Games said that growing up in Mexico, he had seen firsthand the violence of the drug cartels that bring heroin into the U.S. Games described 15-year-old boys who had been hung by the drug cartels for not selling enough substances.
“The safe injection sites will not solve that problem in one million years,” he said.
Several speakers referenced the safe injection sites in British Columbia, expressing fear that the streets of Issaquah would soon look like East Hastings Street near Insite, the first safe injection site established in Vancouver.
Seattle resident Cindy Pierce, speaking on behalf of the Neighborhood Safety Alliance, called Insite and the streets around it a “hellhole,” describing the high crime rates in the area. She said that 49,000 drug users have used Insite since its inception in 2003, and that three million injections have taken place on the premises.
“Nobody has died in that small building, but do you ask the question, ‘How many have died outside of that building?” Pierce said.
One Issaquah resident came forward to speak in favor of safe injection sites.
Issaquah resident Kim Fan pointed out that 52,000 Americans die each year of overdose — 15,000 more than the number of people who die in car accidents. Fan said that safe injection sites can reduce overdose fatalities by having trained professionals on hand to monitor users.
“It reduces public drug use and it reduces discarded syringes and the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, which can go around to someone you know,” Fan said. She also said that safe injection site participants are “more likely to enter detox and treatment services.”
Margaret Hall of Issaquah said that she was “not here to advocate for the sites, but I am here to advocate that you do a thorough study of your community needs.”
Hall pointed out that “no one has ever died from an overdose at a safe consumption space.”
She asked the council to spend more time on the decision.
“Do not make your decision based on fear, but on facts,” she told the council.