By Erica C. Barnett
Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposal to reintroduce a local drug criminalization ordinance has been widely described as a “plan to combat opioid addiction” that would—as the Seattle Times put it—”[c]ommit $27 million toward enhanced treatment facilities, new addiction services and improved overdose response.”
But this characterization is misleading. For one thing, the $27 million includes no new funding. For another, that total includes both one-time spending and a small annual allocation from last year’s state opioid settlement that will trickle in over the next 18 years.
Of the $27 million, $7 million consists of leftover federal Community Development Block Grant funding that the city did not spend in previous years—a one-time allocation that Harrell’s spokesman, Jamie Housen said will provide “capital funding to prepare existing facilities to provide care and treatment services for substance use disorders.”
Of the $27 million, $7 million consists of leftover federal funding that the city did not spend in previous years. The rest is the total amount the city estimates it will receive from the statewide opioid settlement over the next 18 years—a little over $1 million a year each year, on average, through 2032.
The rest, $20 million, is the total amount the city estimates it will receive from the statewide opioid lawsuit settlement over the next 18 years—a little over $1 million a year each year, on average, through 2032. That’s less than seven-hundredths of one percent of the city’s general-fund budget, and about three-tenths of one percent of the Seattle Police Department’s budget.
Housen said the $1.1 million a year will go toward “programs addressing addiction and improving our treatment and service provision systems.”
Those are surely worthy goals (spending on any kind of treatment or social service is almost certainly better than further criminalizing addiction), but they do not amount to the “enhanced treatment facilities, new addiction services and improved overdose response” Harrell announced his plan would pay for. Nor is the opioid settlement funding new; we’ve been reporting on what it will mean for Seattle, and how the state has directed cities to spend the money, since last year.
So what does the bill actually do? Exactly what an earlier version of the bill, which the council rejected 5-4, would have done: Empower City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute people for simple drug possession or for using drugs, except alcohol and marijuana, in public. The substantive portion of the bill, which comes after nearly six pages of nonbinding whereas clauses and statements of fact, is identical to the previous proposal.
In addition, and less substantively, the bill directs the Seattle Police Department to adopt policies governing arrests under the new law, and says that these future policies must “state that diversion and referral to services is the preferred 2 response to possession and public use while acknowledging that arrests are warranted in some situations,” including situations that threaten any person’s safety.
Harrell’s task force on addiction, which includes subgroups that are discussion diversion, treatment, and the role of the municipal court, continues to meet. According to Housen, the groups are focusing on “court systems, arrest and pretrial diversion, and treatment programs” and “are tasked with advancing efforts to improve connections between systems, map and identify gaps in diversion programs, and strengthen partner coordination.”