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Successful Seattle drug treatment program looks to expand across King County

Johnny Bousquet speaks at a press conference announcing the expansion of the LEAD project into King County. (KOMO Photo)

BURIEN, Wash. -- Standing before the crowd of King County’s top politicians and criminal justice leaders, Johnny Bousquet looked at his counselor, Steven Bass.

Bousquet, a musician, said Bass and his co-workers saved his life – a life he said plenty of people had given up on.

“Everybody gave up on me, nobody wanted anything to do with me,” Bousquet said Tuesday.

Bousquet recalled his more than five-year journey with the crowd gathered outside the King County Sheriff’s Office Burien precinct Tuesday morning. Five years ago he was addicted to methamphetamine and other drugs when Seattle police approached him.

“I was downtown selling crack and I sold crack to an undercover cop,” Bousquet said.

When the officers told him they wanted to help, he thought it was a joke, or they were trying to get him to rat out his friends.

“They had me red-handed and two hours later I’m on my way to rehab,” Bousquet said.

Within days, Bousquet met with Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) staff in their Belltown office. He said they linked him with treatment for his drug addiction and mental health issues.

Since the one-of-a-kind program was created by Seattle police and local criminal justice leaders, nearly 600 people have worked with LEAD staff, said Lisa Daugaard, of the King County’s Public Defender Association. In exchange for joining the program, Bousquet and the others traded in criminal prosecution for the help they need.

“LEAD provides a way for police officers and others to steer people into community-based care, without going through arrests and court appearances,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

On Tuesday, Constantine announced more than $3 million of funding to expand the program beyond Seattle. Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta, who spoke at the same news conference, said he wants the program in his town.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said the program works.

“We know that imprisoning people who had drug addictions doesn’t make them better,” Satterberg said.

Satterberg announced Tuesday that his office will stop prosecuting people caught with a gram or less of street drugs. He said it’s something they’ve been doing in parts of Seattle where the LEAD program is in full swing, but it will now be done countywide. He said this will impact about 1,000 cases a year.

Constantine said if LEAD is expanded to Burien, roughly 100 people will enter the program in the next year. County leaders believe two other South King County cities will also join the program.

The $3.1 million that Constantine mentioned will come from the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency fund, which is paid for through a 0.1 percent sales tax, according to the county.

The LEAD program will also grow in Seattle; $4 million is budgeted for 2019 and 2020, according to King County.

Bass, who works out of the Belltown office, said having a one size fit all approach for people battling drug addiction doesn’t work.

“We meet people where they’re at and we do what they want to do,” Bass said. “We go with them on their journey.”

Bousquet told the crowd Tuesday that LEAD staff dusted him off and picked him on his bumpy road that has culminated in nearly eight months of sobriety.

“I used to be somebody before I was a drug addict and because of them I’m somebody again,” Bousquet said.

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