State Senate considers total ban on so-called safe injection sites

OLYMPIA, Wash. - There was emotional testimony during a hearing in Olympia on Monday as state senators took up the issue of a total ban in Washington on so-called safe injection sites for heroin users.

The measure would thwart Seattle and King County's efforts to be the first in the nation to allow such sites.

"At 18, I became a heroin addict and used IV drugs from the age of 18 until i turned 40," testified Rick Williams, a recovering heroin addict.

After 22 years of addiction, Williams told the state senators he kicked the habit without the need for a safe injection site, such as the one established in Vancouver, B.C. The center, called Insite, allows users to inject illegal drugs - like heroin - under the watchful eye of health professionals. Insite has been operating for about 30 years.

Williams fears such sites would be magnets for attracting drug crime.

"I think these sites will be devastating. It'll cause crime, because if I'm sick, I'm going to break into a car and do what I can loaded again," Williams told the group.

Republican state Senator Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way) wants to ban such sites from ever coming to the state.

"The movement toward legalizing heroin is wrong. The movement toward letting people tolerating drug use is wrong, especially heroin," said Sen. Miloscia.

The bill is a direct response to Seattle and King County's effort to open these sites as soon as possible.

"In banning safe injection sites, it would prevent the launch of an evidence-based prevention to protect public health safety, save lives and engage users of opiates," said Brad Finegood from King County Community and Health Services.

Senators also heard from from families who've experienced overdose deaths of loved ones.

"Real people are dying and every one of those people is someone's child," said Michael Roberts, the father of a heroin overdose victim.

Roberts choked back tears as he told the group his 19-year-old daughter, Amber, was found dead at home from a heroin overdose in 2015.

"That same day I was planning taking her to detox and treatment. Just a little too late," he said.

Her name is now tattooed on his arm and he urged senators to vote down the ban, believing a safe site might have made a difference in her life while waiting for treatment.

Monday's hearing marked the first on the bill in the senate. Sponsors admit that even if it gets through the senate, its chances in the democratic-controlled house are slim.

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