A new lawsuit seeks to stop an initiative banning safe consumption sites across King County from ever appearing on a King County ballot.
Protect Public Health, a new nonprofit started by "public health experts and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose," filed a lawsuit today arguing Initiative 27 goes beyond the scope of what local initiatives are allowed to do.
In a complaint filed in King County Superior Court, lawyers representing Protect Public Health argue that state law gives authority over any county public health decisions and budgeting to the King County Board of Health and the King County Council. By banning a public health effort like safe consumption sites, the initiative is trampling on the county's ability to address public health crises like the opioid crisis.
"Unlike the board of health and the county council, voters are in no position to weigh the scientific evidence or understand the impact of vetoing part of a multi-prong response to a local public health crisis," the lawyers write. "That is why state law is clear that local public health decisions are not made by electioneering."
Safe consumption sites would provide a place for people to use illegal drugs like heroin under the supervision of medical staff on hand to prevent fatal overdoses. The sites, modeled off similar places around the world, would also offer connections to treatment services. Last fall, a city/county task force recommended—as one of many steps to address the opioid epidemic—opening two sites in King County, one inside the City of Seattle, but the effort has stalled in bureaucratic delays.
Meanwhile, I-27, which would ban the sites countywide, received enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. (The King County Council has not yet determined when it will appear on the ballot.) A growing number of cities across the county—Bellevue, Kent, Renton, Federal Way, and Auburn—have also said they won't allow a site inside their city limits.
The initiative "constitutes a fundamental attack on public health," the legal complaint reads, and could "open a floodgate to local initiatives on controversial public health decisions ranging from medical quarantine, to compulsory medication for tuberculosis and other communicable diseases, to mandatory vaccinations, to regulations to slow the spread of sexually transmitted diseases."
The suit asks the court to rule the initiative beyond the scope of local initiative power and to prevent it from appearing on any future ballot.
The campaign for I-27 is being funded largely by a controversial Bothell City Council member, a handful of investors and developers, and Seattle businesswoman and conservative activist Faye Garneau. The campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.
Protect Public Health is separate from the campaign against I-27, according to spokesperson Sandeep Kaushik. The group is "just starting" to raise money to cover legal costs and so far has support from Evergreen Treatment Services and the Hepatitis Education Project, Kaushik says.
Turina James, who according to a press release from Protect Public Health is in recovery from opiate addiction, called I-27 "the wrong approach because it forces people into unsupervised injections spaces such as bathrooms and alleys. Since I did not have access to a sterile space and supervision. I contracted an infection that nearly cost me my arm."
Michael Roberts, whose daughter died at 19 from a heroin overdose, said in the release: "Supervised consumption spaces save lives. Treatment is of paramount importance, but we need to keep people alive if they are ever going to get there."