To the King County Council,
My name is Sonny Nguyen and I have the pleasure of serving as the Organizing Director for API Food Fight Club. This past Friday, I visited Vancouver, Canada to tour their supervised injection site, InSite, and learn more about their program models, community engagement outreach, and their impact on the surrounding communities. It is with information I gleaned from this visit and discussions with social workers, nurses, and community organizers here in our area that API Food Fight Club has concluded Initiative 27, concerning supervised consumption sites, is heavily misguided.
The misconceptions and misplaced fears are especially apparent in the legislation’s “Statements of Facts.” Number 3 reads “The use of supervised drug consumption sites is inconsistent with the county’s goal of preventing substance use disorder and overdoses across King County.”
I invite proponents of this initiative to investigate the number of fatal overdoses in supervised injection sites worldwide. My understanding of that number is to be zero. According to a 2016 University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute report, there were 332 drug caused deaths in King County. For those of you that went to a liberal arts college like myself, I’ll make that math easier for you. 332 more people have died in our county from drugs last year than in all supervised injection sites across the world.
While I cannot speak much on other safe consumption site models, I was very impressed by the wrap-around services available at InSite. They had a quite literal vertical integration of services available on the floors above the injection room, including wound care, detox, and housing services. Because of their compassionate, measured, and responsible approach, InSite was able to prevent 2,395 overdoses in their facility from becoming fatal since 2003 and InSite users are also 30% more likely than other users to engage in addiction treatment.
I understand that many people are concerned around public safety in the areas that safe injection sites operate. I get that. Hastings Street in Vancouver, in my professional opinion in public safety organizing, is a total nightmare. But it was also a nightmare before InSite was placed. Safe injection sites are placed in locations where drug use is already happening. We know that dependent users will not travel far between scoring and using. Safe consumption sites allow for that use to happen off the street in a private facility, rather than in the streets. They avert thousands of public injections a year and act as a repository for used syringes much like the hundreds I have picked up on sidewalks and in parks in the International District. In fact, when the Canadian federal government threatened to shut down safe injection sites including InSite, nearby businesses and residents offered to write letters in support of the site, having gained an understanding of the positive impact it had made on their community.
We need to get real. People are using drugs. They are using them on your porches, in your restaurant bathrooms, and in the park. Why not give them a place to do it in private, a place that will keep them alive long enough to get treatment? While proponents of this initiative seem to believe that supervised consumption sites are not consistent with the county’s goal of preventing drug overdoses, I do believe this initiative is absolutely consistent with the goal of many citizens to shame drug users further into the shadows so that they may die quietly and out of sight.
We have learned from public health crises in the past, most especially HIV, that shame and silence are not effective strategies to address an epidemic. We know that policing and incarceration, as shown by our nation’s war on drugs, result in racist policies that ravage our communities of color, and hold relatively low impacts on actual drug sales and use. We are no longer in a war on drugs, but we are losing our battle against opioid use. But I believe if we are smart and together, we can win.
Thank you for your time.
API Food Fight Club