Fentanyl is on track to kill over 1,200 people in King County this year, about 15 times the number of people killed by guns. Our streets are scarred, with countless people desperate to avoid withdrawals consuming toxic substances on our sidewalks, buses, and parks.
I personally have lost a loved one to addiction and have seen many people I love fall to pieces, and I am tired of excuses and inaction from elected leaders and empty theatrics that won’t help anyone from my opponent.
I call on our leaders to finally tackle this problem–and for my opponent to skip the performative politics that got us here.
We recently incorporated an ordinance in Seattle so the city attorney can prosecute in certain cases. Critics claim this will restart the drug war–and advocates, including the Mayor, claim it will be a path to getting people into recovery services.
The actual impact, as is so often the case, will depend on the details of how we execute in the real world and what we fund because our judicial system and our recovery system are already way over capacity.
As someone who believes we need to do what the science shows will actually work, it is clear that we need to take the public health approach that the Mayor touts and that every relevant scientific body has weighed in on.
This is all the more important given that we have not yet managed to root out the serious inequities in our justice system. Jailing people simply for being addicted turns out to be the most expensive and least effective approach–and it continues to disproportionately harm our black and brown neighbors. This is why Bruce Harrell says we won’t do it.
But to actually deliver on that promise, we need to rapidly scale up our meager treatment and wraparound support capacity, get treatment meds into the hands of the thousands of people who want it, and structure our police enforcement thoughtfully, with clear guidelines. This will actually address the addiction and public consumption crisis, contain the dangers to the public, and avoid the serious racial inequities of past practices.
This is directly in line with the Biden Administration’s strategy for the drug crisis. It means:
Rapidly expand low-barrier addiction treatment and the services needed for recovery around the city.
We can augment in-the-field service providers such as Evergreen Treatment Services’ mobile prescription service to provide medical treatment for opiate abuse disorder for at least 10,000 people. The medical treatment will drastically cut the overdose death rate by reducing dependency on the toxic illicit drug supply and provide some respite for individuals who then need assistance with other elements of their recovery journey, addressed below.
Expand on existing, well-regarded low-barrier shelter/temporary lodging programs, such as CoLEAD & the Bridge Shelter, to get people off the street and increase the likelihood of people moving into and succeeding in recovery.
Experts tell us that Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is most often a reaction to trauma, a coping strategy for other injuries and harms, not a stand-alone problem. Recovery, as defined by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is a complex process requiring attention to an individual’s sense of safety, security, relationship & hope, and specifically includes a “safe place to live.”
Housing First is an exhaustively researched, evidence-based strategy to engage people with substance use issues, address physical security and basic needs by providing secure shelter, and enhance individuals’ ability to tackle other problems & barriers while not enduring the ongoing trauma of life on the street. It also gets people off the street–which is good for the surrounding community, too.
In our community, CoLEAD, spun off from the LEAD diversion framework during the pandemic to resolve encampments by offering low-barrier shelter and intensive case management, has shown a strong ability to prevent overdose deaths (no CoLEAD participant has been lost to overdose over the last three years), to connect participants to behavioral health services, & to accomplish the transition to permanent housing.
We need more of this. For example, Catholic Community Services’ Bridge Shelter is a well-regarded low-barrier shelter where individuals with case management resources usually fare well.
Use the ordinance prohibiting public consumption to channel people with addiction into realistic alternatives–recovery services (as mentioned above) or overdose prevention services whenever possible.
Overdose prevention can be housed in centers around the city or possibly delivered through mobile overdose units.
The Biden Administration and the conservative Cato Institute both advocate for overdose prevention centers because they are proven to reduce overdose deaths dramatically, cut public consumption in the surrounding neighborhood, cut drug litter and equipment, and do not in any way increase drug use. They are faster, more reliable, and cheaper at getting people into treatment.
However, the bulk of investment needs to go toward actually moving people along a recovery path and if they are unhoused, into housing because without those two, the overdose pandemic and public consumption pattern will continue.
Encourage First Responders to Administer Naloxone (Narcan) to overdose victims (lifesaving overdose medicine) without a police officer present.
This will prevent delays in Narcan administration and allow police to show up instead to the other calls where they are needed. If the responder thinks the police need to be present on a case-by-case basis, of course, that request should be honored, but we should work with first responders to reach an agreement that the default should not be to wait for the police.
Use our limited police and criminal justice resources to embrace a “divert first” approach.
“Divert first” means coordinating care using established frameworks for police partnership with community-based care providers. In this framework, referrals come from both pre-arrest and post-arrest. By working with community partners with deep expertise in evidence-based treatment, we can ensure we deliver the right response to each crisis.
When we do arrest to protect others from harm, we should lay out a clear definition of what counts as a risk of harm to others. We have too long of a history of abusing our black and brown neighbors–particularly when it comes to enforcement of drug laws. We must put rigorous standards in place to protect against this and ensure accountability to those standards–so that the relationship between law enforcement and the community is constructive and the path to recovery is successful.
We are fortunate to have LEAD, the nation-leading framework for integrating police into a comprehensive response to drug use in the community, which was born here. LEAD is a framework in which officers who find themselves in a situation where they need to intervene to address a dire situation can do so but can always tap diversion resources for a warm hand-off to community-based care. We should structure the requirements to ensure this handoff happens whenever possible.
This should be the standard for all police interactions with street-level drug-related issues, whether they are simply making referrals to partners or arresting them to prevent harm or dealing.
I’ve been falsely accused of saying we should never arrest or enforce even when there is a threat of harm or of drug dealing happening. That is an absurd accusation, and it suggests a deep unseriousness and lack of understanding of policy on the part of my opponent. I have not advocated for that, nor am I advocating for that. What I did, and still do believe, is that when we do arrest for these things, we recognize that the diversion-first practices I described above are evidence-based and the most efficient, effective use of our resources. If the root issue for a subsistence-level dealer on the street is addiction, we do know that getting them into treatment is the most effective for breaking the cycle. We still need to interrupt the dealing and, of course, continue enforcing the law when it comes to the actual drug trade. But the fact that my opponent would call this policy “subsidizing drug dealing” suggests a lack of basic understanding of how public safety actually works.
LEAD also offers a framework for officers to get ongoing information about the care plan for individuals they continue to encounter so they can align their response to an ongoing plan rather than try to start from scratch.
We need to ensure that LEAD has the needed capacity so that when police interact with people struggling on the street, they can play the role of constructive partners and tap a community-based response rather than booking and referral for prosecution.
LEAD is evidence-based, widely replicated, and significantly more effective than jail and prosecution at getting people into recovery and cleaning up our streets– so let’s make sure this option is always available to officers.
Maintain LEAD capacity for community referrals.
By ensuring that police are another front door to programming like LEAD, we will strain its resources if we do not expand its capacity. We need to ensure that community referral partners can also reliably get people the help they need. We need as many front doors as possible to get people off the street and into the treatment they need. But we need to ensure there is a place to go when people step through those front doors.
Adopt Alex Pedersen’s 2% top-up of the extreme capital gains tax on capital gains of $250,000 or greater in an individual year to pay for it.
This will raise ~$50M a year, and the additional money will be able to ensure that we can provide the scale of recovery services we need to address this enormous problem.
My opponent has said time and time again in forums that she is not interested in raising new revenue. Because of decreases in tax sources from real estate sales and other sources and the legal requirement that we balance the budget–this means she plans to cut $200M from the budget that funds all these services–police, the judicial system, recovery services, housing for the homeless.
That is the path to a much bigger problem with open drug use, overdose deaths, and homelessness.
We need to move past the false choice of decriminalization without any real path into treatment v. dressing up in tough-guy outfits while lighting money on fire and leaving just as many people dying on the street.
We need to be honest about the math, be practical, and pay for what works.