Seattle homeless Navigation Team begins clean-up with sweep of I-5 camps below Capitol Hill

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

There have been clean-ups of the area beneath Interstate 5 between Capitol Hill and Eastlake before. But officials hope this week’s sweeps can be part of a longer term change of what an East Precinct officer once described as a “no man’s land populated by the homeless, mental cases.”

In the first official deployment of the city’s new Navigation Team including outreach workers and police, the areas along and under I-5 popular with campers in the city’s core are being cleared out.

Here is what KOMO saw during the start of the clean-up in a half-mile stretch near the Colonnade Park between lower Capitol Hill and Eastlake:

Police and safety vest clad workers started pulling apart a bunker underneath I-5 early Tuesday. Mixed in with the bottles filled with urine were piles of blankets, rats and a smattering of personal belongings. Continue reading

Seattle, county move forward in fight against heroin deaths

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine are moving forward with all eight of the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force’s recommendations to battle the region’s deadly epidemic.

“Opioid addiction is killing people in our community, sparing no age, race, sexual identity, income level or neighborhood,” Constantine said last week. “The experts we brought together have provided us with the battle plan we need to defeat this epidemic — a plan to save lives, to make it easier for people to get the help they need, to prevent the devastating harm that addiction causes. Unless we are willing to let this suffering continue, we have an obligation to turn their plan into action.”

The nearly 40 experts from public health, criminal justice, hospitals, schools and treatment providers and researchers convened in March 2016 and released a report and recommendations in September. Continue reading

County health officials sign off on safe consumption sites — now, where to put them?

A mock safe consumption site came to Cal Anderson in 2016 (Image: CHS)

A mock safe consumption site came to Cal Anderson in 2016 (Image: CHS)

The locations are far from final and another round of official approval lies ahead but the creation of a safe consumption site pilot in King County — possibly the first such program in the nation — moved ahead Thursday as the Board of Health unanimously approved recommendations from a task force assembled to stem the tide of opioid addiction and deaths.

Thursday’s 12-0 vote paves the way for the creation of two safe injection sites somewhere in King County. Officials are quick to add that no candidate sites have yet been made public. That important and crucial detail will fall to the executive branch in King County and Seattle as Dow Constantine and Mayor Ed Murray are now on the clock to present plans to make the sites reality. Continue reading

Budget update: 8 City Council tweaks to budget include reversing mayor’s drug arrest diversion cuts

budget-process-updateA proposed cutback on the city’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program that expanded to SPD’s East Precinct on Capitol Hill in 2016 will be restored in proposed changes to the Seattle budget put forward by the City Council this week.

District 3 representative Kshama Sawant sponsored the proposed $150,000 budget line item’s “green sheet” addition to the 2017 spending plan.

This Green Sheet would add $150,000 GSF in 2017 and $150,000 GSF in 2018 to the Human Services Department (HSD) for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. LEAD expanded to East Precinct in 2016; this funding would keep LEAD’s City-funded portion of its budget at the same level ($960,000).

LEAD is a pre-booking program that places qualifying drug use suspects into counseling instead of jail.

CHS wrote about Mayor Ed Murray’s 2017-2018 budget plan from a Capitol Hill perspective here. Council members have bristled at the mayor’s plan to slice back LEAD spending as well as his homeless spending plan.

Below are eight tweaks to the mayor’s plan being carried forward by the council members. You can take a look at all 104 proposed budget updates here.

  1. Fund the LEAD program: Add $150,000 GSF in 2017 and 2018 to HSD for the LEAD program Continue reading

Times: Seattle’s homeless and drug problems ‘intersected at the corner of Madison and Boren’

Inside Italian Family Pizza

Inside Italian Family Pizza

A Seattle Times column has some harsh words for the City of Seattle and Therapeutic Health Services, the operator of a busy methadone clinic on First Hill.

“We have a homeless problem, and we have a drug problem. And they have both intersected at the corner of Madison and Boren,” writes Nicole Brodeur about the challenges the owners of Italian Family Pizza tell her they’ve had in their first three months of business after moving to First Hill.

Included in the column are two incidents involving the Calozzi family straight from the CHS blotter. Continue reading

Heroin addiction task force recommends Seattle open safe consumption sites

"Ghost" behind QFC had just purchased and cooked up $10 worth of heroin (Image: Tim Durkan with permission to CHS)

“Ghost” behind QFC had just purchased and cooked up $10 worth of heroin (Image: Tim Durkan with permission to CHS)

Momentum is building in Seattle to open a space where heroin addicts can use their own drugs under medical supervision at so-called safe consumption sites.

A task force of opiate addiction experts, public officials, law enforcement officials, and former addicts released a 99-page report Thursday outlining eight recommendations on what the city and region should do to tackle its heroin epidemic. Among those is opening two “community health engagement locations” — one in Seattle and one in greater King County.

“I believe we should have these sites,” said Mayor Ed Murray, who will be visiting safe consumption sites in Vancouver, BC this week. There is currently no operating safe consumption site in the U.S. and task force members acknowledged there would be legal challenges to overcome. Continue reading

SPD: Better training, reporting has cut ‘crisis intervention’ use of force

Training officers to end mental health crisis situations without force or arrest has been a major focus of reform at the Seattle Police Department in recent years. Those trainings now appear to be paying off in a big way. According to a report released by the department this week, officers rarely use force when responding to calls involving people in some form of mental health crisis.

With approximately 9,300 crisis responses reported last year, only 149 (1.6%) involved any use of reportable force, and of these, only 36 (0.4% of crisis responses overall) involved greater than a low-level, Type I use of force.

SPD credited its increased training and data collection for the encouraging trend — reforms that were part of the department’s response to a 2011 federal consent decree over excessive use of force by officers. Continue reading

SPD’s efforts to prevent heroin deaths earns a visit from Surgeon General


Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks with SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole and Mayor Ed Murray. (Image: Kaylee Osowski)

Seattle Police got the call on Sunday — a 21-year-old woman was on the ground and unresponsive at 9th and Pine. According to police reports she was extremely pale, had a faint heartbeat and did not appear to be breathing. Hypodermic needles laid next to her.

The officers gave her nasal naloxone, a heroin overdose antidote. Four minutes later, the woman was speaking in full sentences with medics and transported to Harborview Medical Center.

It was SPD’s 10th overdose save since it began equipping 60 bike cops with naloxone in March. It also came just ahead of the U.S. Surgeon General’s visit to Seattle to discuss the opioid epidemic.

“We have officers who are taking initiative to do something that’s not necessarily in their job description, but which is part of their overall mission, which is to save and protect lives,” said Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy while visiting SPD’s downtown headquarters. He called the program creative and commended the police department.

According to a July report from the UW Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, King County saw 132 heroin overdose deaths in 2015. Treatment admissions for heroin peaked, surpassing alcohol for the first time. Opioid abuse now kills more Americans than car accidents, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. It’s difficult to pin down just how many happen on Capitol Hill, but experts say the neighborhood is an overdose hotspot. The arrival of downtown homeless outreach workers to Capitol Hill was prompted in part by the rise of drug users living on the street. Continue reading

Where did deadly cocaine in Capitol Hill overdoses come from?

The Seattle Police Department is winding down the investigation of two women who died on Capitol Hill after snorting chemical-laced cocaine, but a search for the source of the drugs could expand if similar overdoses continue.

Sara Valenzuela, 36, and Maria Paschell, 49, were found dead inside a Capitol Hill apartment on May 30th. According to police, evidence indicated the women had been dead for about two days and had snorted cocaine before they died.

While the cause of the deaths remains pending toxicology reports, King County Public Health issued a warning that cocaine found in the apartment may have been laced with acetylfentanyl — a chemical that is five times stronger than heroin and stronger than prescription fentanyl. Continue reading

Rising price of heroin overdose antidote won’t affect SPD pilot program

Even with the antidote, overdoses continue to plague the city and East Precinct. Wednesday night, police and fire responded to a reported double overdose on Lakeview Blvd. We're checking for more details on the incident (Image: CHS)

Even with the antidote, overdoses continue to plague the city and East Precinct. Wednesday night, police and fire responded to a reported overdose on Lakeview Blvd. We’re checking for more details on the incident.  (Image: CHS)

A price spike for a life-saving drug won’t hamper an important Seattle Police pilot program. The price of the heroin overdose antidote naloxone has “risen as much as 17-fold in the past two years” but SPD says the price increase will not affect its ongoing pilot program.

“Right now it is not expected to impact us,” a SPD spokesperson told CHS, saying that the supply of naloxone needed for the pilot was purchased before the price increase occurred.

SPD announced the pilot in March as a way to combat the all-too-frequent heroin overdoses on Capitol Hill. As part of the 6-8 month pilot, 60 bike officers carry nasal naloxone and administer the drug when they encounter someone suffering from an opioid overdose. The officers stay with the person until medics arrive.

The funding for the pilot came in part from The Marah Project, a non-profit named after former Capitol Hill resident Marah Williams. Williams died of a heroin overdose in 2012, when she was 19 years old.

While the pilot program will not be affected by the price increase, the SPD spokesperson said that it was too early to tell whether the price increase would impact the implementation of a more extensive program after the pilot has been reviewed.

So far, SPD says that the drug has been deployed six times and all deployments have been successful. According to the SPD blotter, the most recent deployment wasthree weeks ago when two officers administered naloxone to prevent a woman from overdosing near the Alaskan Way Viaduct. After nasal naloxone was administered, the woman’s breathing stabilized and she was transported to Harborview Medical Center.

How Capitol Hill can get a safe consumption site

syringe found outside my car in capitol hill

It has been nearly two months since local elected leaders announced the formation of a King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force to address the regional and national heroin epidemic, and Seattle leaders have talked of establishing safe consumption sites for drug users around the city. Could Capitol Hill — a neighborhood that experiences a high number of drug overdoses — get a safe consumption site?

Safe consumption sites, which would be a first for Seattle — let alone the United States — may end up getting the green light from county’s task force. Brad Finegood, co-chair of the heroin task force and assistant division director of the King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division, told CHS that the task force is considering safe consumption spaces and including them in their final set of recommendations that they will present to regional leaders later this year. The task force is made up law enforcement, representatives from the criminal justice system, public health and addiction experts, as well as homeless and drug policy reform advocates.

“There’s no other such facility that’s sanctioned and operating [in the U.S.],” said Finegood. “It’s definitely something that we are trying to be thorough in vetting.”

While alien to the United States, supervised drug consumption sites have a three-decade long history in other nations. The Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland opened what were then dubbed “Drug Consumption Rooms” or DCRs, back in the 80s and 90s to address public order issues associated with open-air drug use by providing addicts and users (mostly targeting users who inject) with low-threshold access to a supervised space to consume pre-obtained illicit drugs, clean equipment, emergency care in the case of overdoses (namely application of the heroin overdose antidote, Naloxone), and referrals to healthcare and drug treatment services if desired by the user. DCRs served as a public health response intending to prevent overdose deaths, reduce disease transmission, and connect addicts with health and drug treatment services. Spain, Norway have since then joined the pack and opened their own DCRs (a safe injection site has also opened in Sydney, Australia), and last year, France moved forward with opening pilot DCR’s in three cities.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the availability of safer injecting facilities increases drug use or frequency of injecting. These services facilitate rather than delay treatment entry and do not result in higher rates of local drug-related crime,” a summary report of DCR implementation in Europe by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction reads.

Closer to home in Vancouver, Canada, health workers opened Insite — North America’s first safe injection site — in the city’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood back in 2003 to address concentrated public drug use and high HIV infection rates with a harm-reduction, public health-minded approach. And, after more than a decade in operation and more than 30 independent studies on the impacts of Insite, the research indicates that fatal overdoses in the neighborhood went down along with drug-related crime and public order in the neighborhood improved. Use of HIV-risk behaviors like syringe sharing declined alongside neighborhood HIV infection rates, and intake at local drug detox treatment facilities went up, and there was no noticeably increase in drug use or drug trafficking in the area.

In addition, Insite has never lost a user to an overdose on its premises since its founding despite experiencing around thirty overdoses per month.

“They [Insite] haven’t had any overdose deaths, and that’s amazing,” said Finegood.

“The public health arguments are absolutely irrefutable,” said Kris Nyrop, national support director for the Law Enforcement Diversion Program (otherwise known as L.E.A.D),  Public Defender Association drug addiction expert, and safe consumption proponent.

Outside of the county’s official heroin task force, most everyone is just starting to dip their toes in the issue. But drug policy reform advocates have been ramping up their calls for safe consumption sites. Last month, Vocal-WA, a group of grassroots activists who are promoting safe consumption sites, brought the founders of the Insite to Seattle to give presentations around the city (including one to city council) on the project and its impact. Vocal-WA held a rally calling for safe consumption sites that also allow for smoking.

The Capitol Hill Community Council has endorsed safe consumption sites and plans to support Vocal-WA’s lobbying efforts, in addition to conducting outreach with other neighborhood councils.

“We’ve heard lots of anecdotes about public drug consumption [in Capitol Hill], people are finding needles on the ground,” said Zachary Pullin, president of the council. Continue reading

12 things CHS heard at Sawant’s Law Enforcement Diversion forum

There is funding enough to start the process of bringing a successful alternative to old-school drug policing to Capitol Hill and the Central District. But the future of the movement is murky.

Thursday night, City Council District 3 representative Kshama Sawant and the Capitol Hill Community Council held a forum at Miller Community Center in Capitol Hill on the Law Enforcement Diversion Program, or LEAD, and how to expand and implement it in her council district encompassing Capitol Hill and the Central District. The forum was approached as an opportunity to discuss mass incarceration and how programs like LEAD fit into broader efforts to roll back the impacts of the war on drugs and tough love policing.

Featured panelists included one of the original architects of the lead program, Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association, LEAD program supervisor Najja Morris, Scott Lindsey, the mayor’s Public Safety and Police Reform Advisor, Turina James, a LEAD participant and former heroin user, along with Sheley Secrest of the NAACP and executive director of the Gender Justice League and statehouse candidate for the 43rd Legislative District, Danni Askini.

While praise for the LEAD program was abundant, speakers routinely stressed the importance of building on LEAD’s successes with more investment to ensure Seattle’s budding experiment in harm-reduction policing doesn’t fade away.

Last year, Mayor Ed Murray allocated one-time funding in his 2016 budget to help expand LEAD into Capitol Hill. Additional expansions and enhancement of LEAD services will require more money.

Advocates said that LEAD needs to be expanded equitably into areas like South Seattle and the Central District, and that more robust services for LEAD like housing for participants who are still actively using drugs is needed to fully realize the program’s potential. In line with her usual rhetoric, Sawant framed societal problems of drug addiction, mass incarceration, and homelessness as systemic ills of capitalism, and called on the audience to advocate for LEAD and other services and to “hold every politician at city hall accountable.”


Here’s more of what CHS heard at Thursday night’s forum.

  • “There are activists who may be uncomfortable with the authority that LEAD places in individual officers to decide who is good for LEAD and who is not,” said Sawant. “Remember that SPD is still under investigation of the consent decree of the U.S. Justice Department. We have to remember that we are not arguing for this program as a license to whitewash the systemic issues we have in the police department.” Continue reading