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King County another step closer to creating safe injection centers for illegal drug users

SEATTLE - King County and Seattle are now a big step closer to creating so-called "safe injection sites" for illegal drug users.

In a landmark decision Thursday afternoon, the County Board of Heath voted unanimously to approve a resolution, asking city and county leaders to open at least two safe injection centers.

The board said right now, one person dies almost every day due to a drug overdose in King County. The board believes the safe injection centers will help reverse that trend.

The Community Health Engagement Locations, or CHEL sites as they're being called, will let users inject illegal drugs like heroin without judgement or limitation under the supervision of a nurse.

The centers would be the first of their kind in the United States. They're modeled after the only safe injection site in North America called "Insite" which is located in Vancouver, B.C. and has been open for 30 years.

But, naysayers claim the injection sites would mean the government is enabling illegal drug use.

"These people are suffering, they need treatment, they don't need enabling," said one woman during public comments before the vote on Thursday.

"Quite frankly i'm tired of my tax dollars going to pay for such civil disobedience," said another man.

Supporters compare the safe injection centers to needle exchange programs.

"Needle exchange was having the same outlook in regards to fear and intimidation from the public and now it is a practice that is nationwide," said one speaker.

One former heroin addict used the safe injection site in Vancouver, B.C.

"At least it allowed me to stay alive long enough to have the option to stop if I wanted to and I did have that time where I said, 'yeah I'm done,'" said Eric Scitz.

But, one state lawmaker has introduced a bill banning injection centers statewide.

"The best safety is to get people into treatment off drugs. That's where we need to put our resources, not promoting drug use," said Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Auburn.

Locations for the centers have not yet been determined, and the funding has not been appropriated.

"These locations will do the most good when they are in an area where public injection is going on," said Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County's Chief Health Officer.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine must sign off and set a budge for the injection sites before they can be built.

Officials hope they cane open the centers within six months to a year from now.

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