Backers of safe-consumption sites for heroin and other drugs have filed a lawsuit in King County seeking to invalidate Initiative 27, which would ban the facilities. The lawsuit argues public-health decisions cannot be vetoed by citizen initiatives.
Backers of safe drug-injection sites have filed a lawsuit seeking to block a public vote on an initiative banning them.
Initiative 27, which would ban proposed safe-injection sites in King County — the first of their kind in the U.S. — qualified for the ballot last week by receiving the required 47,443 valid signatures from registered voters.
The initiative is headed for the Feb. 13 ballot despite efforts by backers to push a vote in November.
But the lawsuit, filed Monday in King County Superior Superior Court, seeks to halt a public vote, arguing local public-health policy cannot be subject to a veto by citizen initiatives. The lawsuit asks that I-27 be invalidated “in its entirety.”
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Under state law such decisions are left to local authorities, including the Metropolitan King County Council and the county Board of Health, the lawsuit argues, adding “voters are in no position to weigh the scientific evidence or understand the impact of vetoing part of a multi-prong response to a local public health crisis.”
The lawsuit against the I-27 campaign and King County was filed by Protect Public Health, a new group of public-health experts and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose, according to a news release.
“I-27 would set a dangerous precedent for public health. Supervised Consumption Spaces are an essential tool in fighting the opiate epidemic,” Dr. Bob Wood, former director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health-Seattle & King County and a member of Protect Public Health, said in a statement.
Wood added that if I-27 succeeds, it could set a bad precedent by putting other controversial public-health policies at risk of being overturned, including vaccination laws and needle-exchange programs.
Turina James, a safe-injection site supporter who is in recovery from opiate addiction, called I-27 “the wrong approach because it forces people into unsupervised injections spaces such as bathrooms and alleys.” Without access to such facilities, James said, she contracted an infection and nearly lost her arm.
But the idea of government-run or condoned drug injection sites has drawn opposition in many communities and I-27 backers say voters should be allowed to weigh in.
Keith Schipper, a spokesman for the I-27 campaign, criticized the lawsuit as “just another attempt by the powers-that-be to disenfranchise King County voters that want to have their say on this radical policy proposal.”
State Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, a leading critic of the proposed injection sites, said in a tweet “unelected Seattle bureaucrats have shown great contempt for voters and democracy!”
King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposed the creation of two safe-injection sites — one in Seattle and another elsewhere in King County — following recommendations of a task force of public health experts looking to fight a surge of heroin and prescription opiate overdoses. The idea behind them is to keep addicts alive and offer them health care and drug treatment.
A safe-injection site has operated in Vancouver, B.C. since 2003. Addicts bring their own drugs to the facility, called Insite, where they are given a nurse-supervised space and clean syringes and other supplies. If clients overdose, which happens frequently, they are revived with naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids.
If it survives the lawsuit, I-27 will be headed for the Feb. 13 ballot. The Metropolitan King County Council on Monday declined to consider a proposal by Councilmember Kathy Lambert to bar county spending on safe-injection facilities until a public vote on I-27.
However, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, the council budget chair who represents Seatac, Renton, Kent and Des Moines, sought to tamp down any fears the county will rush to open safe-injections sites before the initiative is resolved.
“I will oppose any county funding for safe injection sites until the public has the opportunity to vote on I-27,” Upthegrove said in an email.