Guest column: Actions speak louder than laws when fighting city’s drug problem

Opinion: The Federal Way City Councils new ban on fentanyl in public spaces reflects a short-sighted approach to illegal drug use in our city.

By Jim Pinto,

For the Mirror

We as Americans are running out of empathy. While the PNW has more than its fair share of people with liberal values, King County has evolved from the era of hugging trees and raising your children two blocks from mother nature. Our problems are bigger and longer than we ever thought possible some 40 years ago. The most obvious problem we face is drug abuse.

Federal Way exists at the nexus point between Seattle’s free-spirit and Tacoma’s worker class values. Our problems grow exponentially with every footprint of change that takes place at the bookends of our city. The ever-present drug crisis that other people created impacts us every day here, and it grates and gnaws at our empathy. We see the trash in the streets, the panhandlers at the edges of our parking lots, and the crime in our neighborhoods.

And we are tired.

The Federal Way City Council passed a ban on fentanyl in public spaces on May 3 of this year. The ban, the first of its kind, reflects a short-sighted approach to illegal drug use in our city. Like many King County laws — or sometimes lack of laws — this only addresses the symptoms of drug addiction and not the underlying problems causing fentanyl use in the first place. People have access to lots of other drugs and no law has ever been created that can effective protect people from themselves.

If someone wants fentanyl, they are going to get their hands on it.

Now. Don’t get me wrong. This is a kind of step in the right direction. The county has been lax about prosecuting drug use and a 364-day (maximum) jail sentence may just be the thing to clean up those who have felt the stranglehold of addiction. But it’s unclear to me why this law would be so narrowly defined. Why only fentanyl?

Well. The cynic in me says, because fentanyl is a sexy drug right now and this kind of bill looks like action, when really it only address a small percentage of the larger issues. Fentanyl is trendy now. Creating a law surrounding its use looks like government is taking action. But who is the law protecting? Is it here to keep drug users from overdosing and harming themselves? Or does it really help protect Federal Way’s citizens? And what happens when a newer, more attractive and synthetic drug replaces it? Another round of discussions and debates in City Hall over how to address heroin? Meth? Cocaine?

People who want to hurt themselves will always find a way to skirt the law, and any law addressing the abuse of drugs in a public place needs to cast a wider net than ordnance 813 presently does. We need more than just a single law. We need a plan of action, and people to see that plan of action through. King County is notorious for writing up goals, but its servants lack the wherewithal to see them through with strategies and actual plans.

My fear is this bill is just put war-paint on a cloud. It looks good for a minute, but washes off the minute the wind changes. And the wind changes in King County a lot.

Jim Pinto is a Federal Way resident. Got something to say about Federal Way? Email