by Luna Reyna
Mayor Bruce Harrell announced new efforts this week to address the impacts of fentanyl and other illegal drugs on Seattle residents and businesses in hopes that including financial investments on drug treatment and overdose response will win the approval of the City Council, which rejected a similar bill in June.
“The harm caused by fentanyl and other illegal drugs in our communities is as obvious as these drugs are deadly — they are killing the people using them and creating unsafe and unwelcoming conditions for all Seattle residents,” said Mayor Harrell in a press release.
Nearly 2 million fentanyl pills — enough to kill the entire city with a drug that is 50 times more powerful than heroin — have been seized so far this year, and overdose deaths rose 72% from 2021 to 2022 in Seattle, with the majority attributed to fentanyl and methamphetamines, the press release noted.
“Success will not — and cannot — be measured on how many people cycle through jail; instead, our focus is on improving connections to lifesaving treatment and expanding program options to better meet the needs of those with substance use issues,” Harrell said. “Today’s announcements represent important steps forward toward a safer, healthier Seattle, as we continue to act with urgency to build out a bold health-first approach, help those in need, curtail impacts of public drug consumption, and hold dealers and traffickers accountable.”
Councilmember Andrew Lewis (District 7, Queen Anne to Pioneer Square), who voted against the previous bill, will co-sponsor Harrell’s new bill. “This package is a balanced approach to respond to the crisis fentanyl has brought to our streets,” Lewis said in a press release. “This legislation, that I will co-sponsor, responds to the needs I laid out at the beginning of this process and gives our first responders the tools they need to divert to services where possible and make arrests when necessary. I applaud Mayor Harrell for convening the key partners in city government to get this critical work done.”
The new bill plans to utilize $20 million in programming, such as a post-overdose response team, mobile opioid medication delivery, and harm reduction. These funds come from settlements from pharmaceutical companies involved in recent opioid lawsuits. According to Jamie Housen, the mayor’s communications director, the city will receive an average of $1.15 million per year over the next 18 years from the settlements.
The remaining $7 million will go to “capital investments in facilities to provide services such as post-overdose care, opioid medication delivery, health hub services, long-term care management, and drop-in support,” according to the statement from the Mayor’s Office.
The Mayor’s Office says the new bill emphasizes diversion programs, but the new legislative proposal would also make public consumption of illegal drugs a gross misdemeanor, a move that was voted down in June by Councilmembers Lewis, Lisa Herbold, Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda, and Kshama Sawant because it was seen by the public as a perpetuation of the war on drugs.
In response, Mayor Harrell formed the Fentanyl Systems Work Group, a 24-member task force “uniting the four corners of Seattle government — the Mayor’s Office, Seattle City Council, Seattle Municipal Court, and Seattle City Attorney — along with leaders in law enforcement, diversion programs, and service provision, and other subject matter experts to advance effective and sustainable solutions addressing illegal drug use in public spaces.” The new bill was created with insight and input gathered from the task force.
As an additional part of the bill, Mayor Harrell is scheduled to issue an executive order that he expects Seattle Police Department officers to follow when determining “drug use that threatens others versus the individual alone,” and “recognizing the real and perceived danger of consumption of illegal drugs in public places, and aiming to support safe and welcoming neighborhoods by reducing public use.”
Luna Reyna is a South Seattle writer and broadcaster whose work has identified, supported, and promoted the voices of the systematically excluded in service of liberation and advancing justice. She was Crosscut’s Indigenous Affairs Reporter and her work has appeared in the South Seattle Emerald, Prism Reports, and Talk Poverty. Luna is proud of her Little Shell Chippewa and Mexican heritage and is passionate about reporting that sheds light on colonial white supremacist systems of power.
📸 Featured Image: Photo is attributed to Kevin Schofield under a Creative Commons 2.0 license (CC BY-NC 2.0).
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