If a safe heroin injection site is opened in South King County, as rumors have recently suggested, it will not be in Federal Way.
The Federal Way City Council unanimously quashed that possibility at its Tuesday meeting with a resolution opposing such sites in the city. The resolution also requested county officials not place a safe injection facility in unincorporated King County within Federal Way’s urban growth area.
The matter came to a head when Manka Dinghra, Washington State Senate candidate in the 45th Legislative District, posted that Federal Way was being considered for a safe injection site in an online question-and-answer forum at Reddit.com.
Mayor Jim Ferrell placed the resolution on Tuesday’s agenda at the urging of three council members: Martin Moore, Bob Celski and Mark Koppang.
“I just think these are an incredibly bad policy idea,” Ferrell said prior to Tuesday’s meeting, adding he does not believe they are legal. “I just think it sends the wrong message, and I am confident an overwhelming majority of people in Federal Way feel the same way.”
That assertion was supported by the many residents who spoke about safe injection sites at Tuesday’s meeting, all of whom were opposed to the idea.
District 30 state Sen. Mark Miloscia, who has been an active opponent of safe injection facilities in the Legislature, warned the council what might be expected if one opened in Federal Way based on what he witnessed when he visited such a facility in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“What you would see if we opened up one of these sites here in Federal Way is what I saw there that day: Literally a hundred folks lined out outside looked like they just walked out of a concentration camp,” Miloscia said. “Young, old, men, women — I felt they were literally dying on the street.”
He said he saw drugs passed, heroin injected and drugs being sold out in the open in the middle of the city.
Miloscia said the county needs more treatment facilities and options for heroin addicts as opposed to places providing “taxpayer-funded free heroin.” He also strongly advised the council to state its opposition to a safe injection site being located outside city limits, adding he feared one is being considered for 256th Street.
“I’m hearing sounds and rumors that they want to put a site in South King County,” he said.
Federal Way resident Anthony Pagliocco echoed many of Miloscia’s sentiments. He said Federal Way has enough problems without adding to them by allowing a safe injection site.
“Let’s be real: This is enabling the breaking of the law under the guise of treatment,” he said.
The council and the audience reacted most warmly to Federal Way resident Chloe Carvalho’s testimony. Carvalho, who is a recovering heroin and crack-cocaine addict, spoke about an addict’s mind set based on her own experience.
Carvalho said she understands some of the arguments in support of safe injection sites, such as providing clean needles and preventing the spread of disease. But she opposes safe injection sites because she knows it will only encourage heroin addicts to congregate and loiter in the area, which would discourage residents from wanting to live nearby. Carvalho said she also doubted they would be effective because when addicts need a fix, they will not wait for a safe facility to open, and they will resort to criminal activity to fund their addiction.
Carvalho said that while help is available for heroin addicts, safe injection sites will not solve the problem.
“We can’t change them,” she said. “They have to change themselves.”
Other residents who spoke asked why the City Council wasn’t pursuing stronger legislation than just a resolution. As it turns out, however, a resolution may not have been necessary to keep a safe injection facility out of Federal Way in the first place.
The King County Board of Health initially adopted a resolution endorsing the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force Final Report and recommendations, which included “community health engagement locations” or safe injection sites. Afterward, two facilities were suggested — one in Seattle and another elsewhere in the county.
Despite Dhingra’s initial statement, Federal Way was never suggested as a potential site, which Ferrell and Councilwoman Susan Honda stated at the meeting. Plus, after the opiate addiction task force report was approved, the King County Council passed ordinance language stating no money from its Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Fund could be used to open a safe injection site in a selected location unless that city’s elected governing body first voted to approve it.
Honda said she also learned there may not be any funding available to open safe injection facilities, regardless. Honda, who is on the King County Board of Health as a second alternate representing Sound Cities Association, said she did not vote on the initial task force report and recommendations because she was not needed that day. As a registered nurse, however, Honda said she was not in favor of a safe injection site in Federal Way and wanted the resolution to be approved. She said she felt strongly, however, of looking into other things the city could do to fight the opioid crisis, which other council members had suggested as well.
“I don’t want the conversation to end tonight,” Honda said.