1. As King County hit a demoralizing new record of 1,019 overdose deaths in 2022—a jump of nearly 30 percent over the previous year—a Republican state senator has introduced a bill that would make it easier to access test strips that can indicate the presence of fentanyl in drugs.
As PubliCola has reported, fentanyl is now the default opioid for drug users in King County, a trend that has driven the huge spike in overdoses. Even people who don’t seek out opioids can be at risk, because drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine can be contaminated with fentanyl. Test strips, which can detect the presence of fentanyl in a small amount of a drug, are an essential part of harm reduction efforts, but state law still classifies them as prohibited “drug paraphernalia,” limiting their availability.
Last year, GOP state senator Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, filed a bill that would have changed that designation, but it died in committee. This session, Sen Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor, reintroduced the legislation.
Muzzall told PubliCola that while substance abuse has always been an area of concern for him, it’s also a personal issue. Muzzall is friends with Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki, whose son Patrick died of a fentanyl overdose in 2017 after becoming addicted to pain pills. Muzzall says he knew Janicki’s son and that his death made a deep impression.
“When a mistake like that leads to having to bury your child.. . well, that emptiness never goes away,” Muzzall said. “And that was a tragedy that was brought about by a prescription of Oxycontin. The liability lies with the pharmaceutical industry that led up to that. And it’s just invading our communities.”
Janicki has been a vocal advocate for Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s successful lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, which will add $476 million to the state’s harm reduction and treatment efforts over the next 17 years.
The fentanyl test strip bill is an essential part of those efforts, Muzzall said. “It’s just silly that we don’t make these as easily accessible as possible,” he said. “This bill will take the criminality out of providing them.”
Muzzall, who says fatal overdose is a behavioral and mental health crisis that will likely cost the state a billion dollars to address, is working alongside Democratic Sen. Annette Cleveland of Vancouver on a number of bills to address the issue, and hopes to successfully move the test strip bill through committee this time around.
“If an individual is compassionate, bipartisanship comes easily,” he said.
2. In 2021, then-mayor Jenny Durkan’s information technology department took the public-facing directory of city employees offline, removing a vital resource that allowed members of the public and journalists (as well as city of Seattle employees themselves) to contact people who work at the city. Public employees’ contact information is a matter of public record, and keeping this information secret violates a long tradition of transparency that persists in other government entities across the state, from King County to the entire State of Washington.
Durkan, who falsely claimed the directory would be online again in a matter of months, is no longer in office, but her successor, Bruce Harrell, has made no moves to restore this resource. The former city employee directory website is now a static page with links to a list of the city’s official media relations officers, the websites of various city departments, and the city’s data portal (which does not contain the directory).
Because we believe the city directory is a valuable public resource, PubliCola has taken it upon ourselves to maintain an updated database of city employees and their contact information ourselves. Here’s the latest searchable and downloadable version, with information current as of January 5, 2023. We will continue maintaining and updating this database until and unless the city of Seattle decides to put theirs back online.
Tricia Howe, who directs an outreach program for drug users at REACH, Evergreen Treatment Services’ homeless outreach program, had firsthand experience of King County’s overdose crisis earlier this summer. In a matter of weeks, there were two overdoses outside REACH’s Belltown office.
“One of our case managers came into my office and said, “I think there’s somebody outside who doesn’t look like they’re breathing,” Howe said. “I grabbed a whole bunch of Narcan out of my drawer and ran outside.”
The man’s lips were blue, Howe said, and he wasn’t breathing, though he did have a pulse. She gave him a standard dose of naloxone nasal spray (Narcan), which can reverse the effect of opioids and restore a person’s breathing, but he failed to revive. So Howe gave him a second dose. “He took one deep breath, but was still not responsive,” she said. As Howe was preparing to administer a third dose, first responders arrived, put the man on oxygen, and he finally started breathing.
Based on the man’s response, fentanyl was almost certainly involved. The drug, which is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, can cause overdoses even among frequent opioid users. According to Howe, because fentanyl is cheaper to manufacture, it is quickly replacing heroin and oxycontin as the primary drug available to people who use opioids.
Data from the Washington State Patrol shows that the share of fentanyl in King County drug seizures has climbed dramatically, from around 10 instances in 2018 to more than 100 in 2021. Howe said that all of the counterfeit oxycodone (OxyContin) pills her staff have recently tested have been positive for fentanyl.
“It’s so available now and people are actually seeking it out at this point, where that was not the case before.” According to Howe, because fentanyl is cheaper to manufacture, it is quickly replacing heroin and oxy, and is making overdoses more common and more difficult to reverse.
Though former mayor Ed Murray expressed early support for what would have been the first such sanctioned site in the US, Jenny Durkan’s administration showed little enthusiasm for supervised consumption. Durkan downgraded the plan in 2019 to a single site in a mobile van, citing concerns about the Trump administration’s legal action against a proposed consumption site in Philadelphia.
A 2017 study showed that 83 percent of fentanyl overdoses in Massachusetts required a second dose of naloxone. Howe notes that overdoses of heroin or oxy were easier to reverse than fentanyl. “In the past, you could definitely expect the person to wake up and almost walk away,” says Howe.
Seattle and King County are in the midst of a severe overdose death crisis that began to spike during the pandemic and shows no sign of abating. People without shelter are particularly at risk. A ten-year study published in September by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office and Public Health Seattle-King County found that that accidental deaths nearly quadrupled between 2012 and 2021 among people living unsheltered, and that overdoses now account for 71 percent of such deaths.
As of last week, according to King County Public Health, there had been at least 710 fatal overdoses in the county this year. Of those, at least 473 involved fentanyl. That number has already eclipsed last year’s 708 overdose deaths, including 385 caused by fentanyl.
“When we first started our heroin and opioid task force in 2015, there were three fentanyl overdose deaths,” said Brad Finegood, a strategic advisor at the public health department. “The numbers have grown exponentially.”
Drug users tried to avoid fentanyl when it first arrived on the West Coast, Finegood said, but that attitude has dramatically shifted, and now people are actively seeking out fentanyl. According to a Pew study published in 2019 on drug use in San Francisco, more than half of opioid drug users now actively seek it, despite the dangers. Complicating matters, fentanyl is either smoked or vaporized and then inhaled, so traditional initiation barriers have fallen away.
“For younger people who are experimenting with drugs,” Finegood said, “that makes it much more feasible because they don’t have to use a needle.” Public Health and REACH have had to counter the misinformed belief that fentanyl is safer because it’s smoked rather than injected.
According to the US Department of Justice, most fentanyl originates in China and is made into pills or powders by cartels based in Mexico. Batches of fentanyl that are poorly blended can result in what Finegood calls the “chocolate chip cookie effect,” in which pockets of higher concentrations cause accidental overdose.
A young man named Ian who was living in an encampment near the Home Depot in the Bitter Lake neighborhood said in August that he had no choice but to start using fentanyl. Originally from Wasilla, Alaska, Ian said he first became addicted to opioids while taking Oxycontin for pain. “Then oxy disappeared,” he said. In 2016, the CDC advised doctors to lower prescription levels of oxycodone and this, combined with the Drug Enforcement Agency’s recent crackdown on illegal and fraudulent prescriptions, has made medical-grade pills rare.
Ian said that in the absence of oxy, he did heroin for a while. “Then that disappeared. Now it’s all fetty.”
Half a dozen people at the encampment told me they use fentanyl and know many others who do. Nearly everyone had witnessed overdoses and several said they knew people who’d died.
“Everyone’s doing fetty,” said Jessie, who’s 26 and has been using drugs, including meth, since she was 11 years old. She didn’t live in the Bitter Lake camp, but was helping a friend pack up their belongings before the city came to sweep the site. “I’ve been sober, but it didn’t last,” she said. When asked if she’d seen friends overdose, Jessie said, “Yeah, of course.”
The transformation of fentanyl from risky outlier to the opioid of choice in King County mirrors national trends. In 2021, fentanyl accounted for the majority of overdose deaths in the U.S, though methamphetamine continues to be a close second, both nationally and locally.
Although Seattle, King County, and the cities of Renton and Auburn formed an opiate overdose task force in 2015, local leaders have shelved a key recommendation from the task force’s report: establishing two supervised consumption sites in King County.
Seattle could have been home to the first such sanctioned site in the U.S., following the lead of Vancouver, B.C. and 200 other sites currently operating elsewhere in Canada, Europe and Australia.
Though former mayor Ed Murray expressed early support for what would have been the first such sanctioned site in the US, Jenny Durkan’s administration showed little enthusiasm for supervised consumption. Durkan downgraded the plan in 2019 to a single site in a mobile van, citing concerns about the Trump administration’s legal action against a proposed consumption site in Philadelphia.
“It’s a no-brainer. If you don’t want people to use right in front of you and you don’t want needles all over your parks, then you’ve got to give people a place where they can go.”—Tricia Howe, REACH
Even as the Biden administration changed course and said it would consider allowing sites, neither Durkan nor Mayor Bruce Harrell followed through on the scaled-back plan. Earlier this year, New York City moved past Seattle and opened two safe consumption sites that have already succeeded in preventing 500 deaths.
Kris Nyrop, who spent two decades working on HIV prevention among drug users in Seattle and helped design Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, says the window for action in King County is quickly closing.
“We have two years,” Nyrop said. “Biden is not going to prosecute if Seattle moves forward. So how do we get Mayor Harrell and a majority of the council behind this?”
In fact, Councilmember Lisa Herbold added $1.1 million to the 2021 Human Services Department budget to create safe consumption spaces in existing social services facilities. The city did not move forward on that approach and Harrell’s proposed 2023-2024 budget does not fund it.
Instead, Mayor Harrell has vowed to crack down on people who sell and use drugs, in a highly publicized effort to target “hot spots” such as the intersection of 12th and Jackson in Little Saigon. Anyone walking through the area today can see that this short-term strategy was ineffective at reducing public drug use and sales in the area.
Howe said that the only effective way to reduce visible drug use on the street isn’t more policing, but sanctioned consumption sites. “It’s a no-brainer. … If you don’t want people to use right in front of you and you don’t want needles all over your parks, then you’ve got to give people a place where they can go.”
In the absence of sanctioned sites, Public Health has been quietly moving forward on other, lower-profile strategies aimed at empowering drug users to consume drugs as safely as possible.
In addition to social media campaigns to educate young people about the extremely high risks of fentanyl pills (“blues”), Finegood says Public Health is doing more targeted educational outreach to users about safer consumption practices.
This includes training drug users to recognize the symptoms of overdose, encouraging people not to use alone, and making the overdose reversal medication naloxone widely available. Finegood said Public Health has set up the first mail-order naloxone program in the country, and is working extensively with local pharmacies to offer the drug free, without a doctor’s prescription. “We’ve also set up a couple naloxone and fentanyl tester vending machines,” Finegood said.Continue reading “King County is on Pace for a Record Year of Overdose Deaths”→
The King County Jail in downtown Seattle has lacked potable water since Thursday, September 29, and people incarcerated at the jail have been relying on bottled water for the past week, PubliCola has confirmed.
According to a spokesman for the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), the county “has had the tap water in the jail tested multiple times in multiple locations, and all tests have indicated that the water meets EPA standards for drinking water. However, since the water is still cloudy, we are providing bottled water for drinking and cooking purposes.” The jail has “ample supplies of bottled water,” the spokesman said.
According to the president of the King County Corrections Guild, Dennis Folk, inmates are allowed one bottle of water at a time and can trade in empties for new bottles. This restriction, Folk said, makes it less likely that people will melt the plastic bottles to turn them into weapons or fill them with urine or feces to fling at guards or other inmates.
However, it’s unclear how frequently people inside the jail are actually getting access to water.
“What we are hearing is that there is rationing of water and people are having to choose between hydration or hygiene, and there just isn’t enough water available,” the president of the public defense union (SEIU 925), Molly Gilbert, said.
A spokesman for the jail said there is no rationing and that DADJ offers water “at every meal, periodically throughout the day, during medication delivery, and per request of jail residents.”
PubliCola reported the news exclusively on Twitter Thursday morning.
According to an email from King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) director Allen Nance to the King County Department of Public Defense, the department became aware of “complaints related to water quality” last week (according to Folk, the water coming out of the taps was brown). “We immediately implemented bottled water for all persons in custody and staff out of an abundance of caution,” Nance wrote.
“We have women in the jail who are having their period and they’re unable to get a change of underwear for the week,” Gilbert said. “It’s inhumane, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s a clear liability for the county.”—Molly Gilbert, SEIU 925, King County Public Defense Chapter
Water testing found high “turbidity,” or cloudiness—basically, foreign particles in water that can indicate the presence of disease-causing microbes—and the water has remained off since then while the county has tried to figure out the source of the problem. In his email, Nance said the brown water may have resulted from faulty screens on the water heaters at the jail. According to the DAJD spokesman, the county has sent samples of the water for testing and expects to get the results back tomorrow.
The ongoing water shutoff is just the most recent example of ongoing problems at the jail that have severely limited residents’ access to medical care, attorneys, and time outside their cells. In a survey conducted by the ACLU of Washington in late September, public defenders reported that their clients often lacked access to basic medical care, such as treatment for injuries and dental care, and medication, including everything from insulin to psychiatric meds. When there aren’t enough guards on duty, Gilbert said, escorts for the jail nurses who hand out medication are often the first thing to go. Responding to Gilbert’s statements, the jail spokesman said there are “few if any instances when medication passes would be affected by corrections officer staffing” and that the jail delivers medication even during staffing shortages.
Most of the ongoing issues at the jail stem directly from a worsening staffing shortage, combined with a growing population as the county books more people on misdemeanor charges and transfers inmates from the Regional Justice Center in Kent, whose setup requires more guards per incarcerated person. In recent months, staffing shortages at the jail have led to frequent lockdowns, in which people are locked in their cells 23 hours a day, and defense attorneys report waiting hours to meet with clients, who have to be escorted to meeting areas by guards who are in short supply.
In January, the unions for the public defenders and jail guards joined forces to ask county officials to reduce the population at the downtown jail. Although that request was in response to COVID outbreaks, the staffing shortages that were at issue back then have only worsened in the intervening months.
“We have women in the jail who are having their period and they’re unable to get a change of underwear for the week,” Gilbert said. “It’s inhumane, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s a clear liability for the county.” The jail spokesman disputes this and says jail inmates regularly receive fresh clothes regularly, and can get clean underwear whenever they want.
King County offers hiring bonuses for guards at both the adult and youth detention centers, but hiring hasn’t kept up with attrition as guards burn out and leave. Booking fewer people into the jail would be one solution—about half the people in the downtown jail are booked for three days or less—but that idea is politically unpopular at a time when perceptions of crime have increased. One candidate for King County Prosecutor, Federal Way mayor Jim Ferrell, recently signed on to an “open letter” from eight South King County mayors calling for more felony bookings and “incarceration to ensure… public safety.”
In a sudden reversal of longstanding policy (and after three years of dogged coverage by PubliCola), the Seattle Public Library announced Wednesday that it will stock its 26 library branches with Narcan (naloxone), a nasal spray that can reverse opiate overdoses. Each branch will get one two-dose kit of Narcan, and the downtown branch will get one for each floor, with a few left over for later distribution, a library spokeswoman told PubliCola.
Library staff who want to administer Narcan if someone overdoses will be able to go through voluntary training in how to administer the drug. Untrained staffers won’t be allowed to give the drug, according to the library’s announcement, meaning that if someone overdoses at a library with no trained staff, “there is no guarantee that a patron who overdoses on Library grounds will receive naloxone.”
This policy contrasts with other Seattle departments. Frontline Seattle parks workers, such as lifeguards, parks concierges, and park rangers, all carry Narcan and can use it without special training. Other library systems also supply Narcan to workers and the public. In Chicago, for example, all library staff are trained to use Narcan and the library distributes kits for free to anyone who wants one.
The library spokeswoman said she could not provide any details about why the department changed its policy. A blog post announcing the change said only that “over the last few months,” the library went through “a careful review process, which included updated guidance on liability from the City Attorney’s Office and an examination of other City departments’ practices.” We have reached out to City Attorney Ann Davison’s office for more information on the change.
In July, as we exclusively reported, a staffer asked if it would be okay for him to carry Narcan at work. At the time, the library said it had been advised by the city attorney’s office that employees who administered the drug would be unprotected by the both state’s Good Samaritan law, which protects people who voluntarily render emergency care, and a separate law protecting Washington residents from liability specifically for administering Narcan. Any library employee who used Narcan to try to reverse an overdose, a union representative told staffers in an email, could be subject to discipline.
A spokeswoman for the library said that the library is “requesting that staff not use their own supply of Narcan while at work during this interim period” before staffers have gone through training. “After staff volunteers are trained, we may revisit that.” The spokeswoman said the library is “in conversations about training with several organizations.”
Previously, the library had varying reasons for not stocking Narcan, which works by restoring breathing in an overdosing person. Back in 2020, a library spokeswoman told PubliCola that putting Narcan in libraries would require bargaining with the library union, for example.
People die of opiate overdoses when they stop breathing, and emergency responders often prefer to perform rescue breathing or provide oxygen to an overdosing person because naloxone can send people into rapid withdrawal, an extremely unpleasant side effect that, in practice, sometimes leads people to refuse additional care. Narcan, however, is extremely simple to administer—you squirt it into one nostril—and can save a person’s life during the period after they stop breathing but before medics arrive.
According to the King County Department of Public Health, there have been at least 42 likely overdoses in or outside public libraries in King County since 2019, including 16 inside library branches. Since 2017, at least eight people have died of drug-related causes at libraries in King County, half of them in Seattle.
1. Cities and counties around the state stand to lose more than $500 million in funds for treatment, overdose prevention, diversion, and education on opioid misuse in a settlement between the state attorney general’s office and the three largest opioid distributors earlier this year, if holdout cities fail to sign on to the settlement by this Friday.
The settlement, which resulted from a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson in 2021, will only be distributed to cities and counties if at least 116 of the 125 eligible jurisdictions, including all 39 Washington counties, sign a form agreeing to participate in the settlement. As of last Friday, 100 jurisdictions had signed on, including all but five counties—Adams, Kitsap, Pierce, Skagit, and Snohomish.
Cities in the Puget Sound region that have not agreed to participate in the settlement yet include Auburn, Burien, Everett, Mercer Island, Renton, and Tacoma. According to a letter the head of the AG’s Complex Litigation Division sent to local officials last week, cities can choose to hand their settlement money over to a regional body for distribution, send it to their county, or spend it themselves according to a list of approved uses.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for additional information late last week.
2. The city just moved one step closer to setting up an alternative for some calls that are currently dispatched through the 911 system, when Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office and the city council signed a “term sheet” laying out formal steps toward standing up a comprehensive response system for calls that do not require a police response. These calls could include “person down” calls, wellness checks, and low-priority “administrative calls” that currently go largely unanswered.
Among other longer-term commitments, the agreement—signed by Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell and Esther Handy, the council’s central staff director—says the city will establish a work group to develop a pilot program by next January that can be implemented in 2023, a year before Harrell’s office has said they’ll be ready to propose and start implementing a more comprehensive plan to use alternative responders for some non-emergency calls. The term sheet requires the mayor and council to come up with “basic costing information” by October 14 so the council can consider the plan during its fall budget deliberations.
As PubliCola reported in July, the council already passed a supplemental amendment to this year’s budget identifying $1.2 million in funding for a civilian response pilot, using the money from former mayor Jenny Durkan’s since-abandoned “Triage One” proposal. Councilmember Andrew Lewis, a longtime proponent of Eugene, OR’s CAHOOTS alternative-responder model, estimated that it would cost a little under a million dollars to fund a three-person pilot program for one year.
1. Last month, we reported on the Seattle Public Library’s directive telling staff not to carry or use Narcan, or naloxone—a nasal spray that can restore breathing in people overdosing on opioids—because of potential liability issues.
The state’s Good Samaritan law exempts people who provide emergency care from civil liability, but a library spokeswoman said City Attorney Ann Davison’s office advised the library that library staffers were “likely” not covered by the law. King County Public Libraries, which operates outside Seattle, also bars staff from using Narcan.
Public libraries are among the only indoor places where people experiencing homelessness can go during the day without being expected to make a purchase or explain why they’re there. They’ve also been the location for dozens of fatal and nonfatal overdoses in recent years. According to data provided by the King County Department of Public Health, there have been at least 42 likely overdoses in or outside public libraries in King County since 2019, including 16 inside library branches. Since 2017, at least eight people have died of drug-related causes at libraries in King County, half of them in Seattle, including at least four involving opiates like heroin and fentanyl.
Bans on using Narcan force library staffers to call 911 and wait for emergency responders to arrive, adding several potentially fatal minutes to the time an overdosing person is unconscious and not receiving oxygen to their brain.
A review of recent fire department reports for overdoses at Seattle Public Library branches shows that it takes emergency responders between three and five minutes to arrive on the scene of an overdose and start administering aid. These reports also show that on at least one occasion, back in April, someone at the downtown Seattle library revived a patron with Narcan, the drug library staffers were formally barred from using just three months later.
The ban on using Narcan is based on the belief that library staffers, unlike other Washington state residents, are not protected under the state’s Good Samaritan laws when they administer aid. By that standard, library staffers shouldn’t be able to offer first aid to patrons experiencing minor medical emergencies, or attempt to assist people experiencing heat stroke when they come to the library to cool off in the summer. And yet they manage to do both. Why are overdoses categorically different?
2. Greg Spotts, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s nominee to lead the Seattle Department of Transportation, submitted detailed answers this week to a list of questions from the city council’s transportation committee about his goals for his first year, plan to get Vision Zero back on track, and ideas about how to create a more equitable transportation system. Spotts’ responses t check off a lot of boxes for people who support urbanism and alternatives to driving alone.
For example, in response to a question about creating “connected safe spaces for people to move throughout the city” without a car, Spotts noted that in many cases, “pressure to preserve just a few curbside parking spaces stands in the way of conveying cyclists safely across a busy intersection. Too many of our bike and pedestrian routes have discontinuities that render the route significantly less safe, useful and attractive than it could have been.” In 2019, former mayor Jenny Durkan killed plans to build a protected bike lane along a dangerous stretch of 35th Ave. NE after neighborhood and business groups argued that removing a few curbside parking spaces would devastate businesses in Wedgwood and Ravenna.
However, Spotts also hedged a bit when talking about commitments to new bike infrastructure, responding to a question about whether he would support creating new protected bike lanes as part of road resurfacing projects with an artful dodge. “I fully intend to support projects and routes as called for in the Council-approved Bicycle Master Plan; and will be engaging with staff, subject matter experts, and community as these projects are developed and constructed,” he wrote. As the Urbanist has reported, the city is currently working to integrate all its transportation related “master plans” into a single mega-plan, a move that some advocates worry could further reduce the city’s commitments to nonmotorized transportation.
He also ducked questions about whether parking enforcement officers belong at SDOT and if he would commit to removing the large concrete “eco-blocks” that business owners place illegally in the public right-of-way to keep people living in oversize vehicles from having a place to park. (Councilmember Sara Nelson, whose own business, Fremont Brewing, continues to flagrantly violate this law, is not on the transportation committee).
Previous SDOT directors learned the hard way that specific commitments can be tough to implement if they conflict with what their boss, the mayor, wants—which is probably why, when asked about equity in transportation investments, Spotts said only that Seattle’s most deadly streets for cyclists and pedestrians, Rainier Ave. S and Aurora Ave. N., “can potentially be reenvisioned to meet community needs.” Harrell has made it clear that his top transportation priorities include maintaining and repairing basic infrastructure like streets and bridges, not big-reach projects like protected bike paths connecting every part of the city.
Seattle will hear more from Spotts next month, when the transportation committee considers his nomination again after the council returns from summer recess.
At a press conference and bill signing for three pieces of legislation aimed at protecting people who seek abortions in Seattle, City Councilmember Tammy Morales said she had also introduced legislation that would bar so-called crisis pregnancy centers—fake clinics run by religious anti-abortion groups—from false advertising at their locations inside city limits.
CPCs, also known as “limited-service pregnancy centers,” use deceptive tactics to get pregnant people in the door, using phrases like “pregnancy alternatives” to suggest they provide abortions. Inside, staffers attempt to persuade people to go through with their pregnancies, offering “non-diagnostic ultrasounds” and the promise of “free” baby-related items in the future.
According to a 2021 report by the Alliance, a coalition of groups supporting reproductive and gender justice, these “free” items were almost always contingent on participation in Christian programming, such as “counseling, Bible studies, abstinence seminars, video screenings, or other ideological CPC programming.” Despite their baby-centric advertising, they virtually never offer contraception, STI testing, or prenatal care of any kind.
Morales’ bill, which her Neighborhoods, Education, Civil Rights, and Culture Committee approved on Friday, would bar CPCs in Seattle from making misleading or false claims about their services, or to claim or imply that they provide abortions, prenatal care, or other services that they don’t provide. The bill also emphasizes, in a “whereas” clause, the city’s commitment to state law protecting the privacy of people who seek abortion care.
On Monday, Morales said she hoped the bill would help address some of the privacy issues associated with these fake clinics, which collect personal medical information from their “patients” but are not subject to federal medical privacy laws. If someone came to a CPC from a state where abortion was illegal and told a CPC worker they planned to go through with an abortion in Washington state, that CPC could have collected enough information to report that person to the authorities in their home state, for example.
“The potential is that they could use that information to track who is seeking abortion care, and this is particularly dangerous for people who might be coming from states where this is illegal now, so it’s trying to address both of those things,” Morales said.
There are only about three CPCs (two CareNet outposts and a group called 3W, which has denied it is a crisis pregnancy center) currently operating in Seattle, plus a pregnancy center operated by Catholic Community Services; Morales said she was also aware of a “mobile clinic” operating in South Seattle. However, many more CPCs are located around the Puget Sound region, including Next Step Pregnancy Services (Lynnwood), the Pregnancy Resource Clinic (Everett), Pregnancy Resource Services (Bremerton), Pregnancy Aid (Auburn, Des Moines, and Kent), and nine other CareNet outlets.
Morales said her legislation (co-sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Herbold) is modeled on a San Francisco law—the Pregnancy Information Disclosure and Protection Ordinance, passed in 2011. That law bans CPCs in San Francisco from misleading the public about what services they provide.
Sate legislation would be more effective still, because it would apply everywhere, including rural areas where anti-abortion sentiment is more prevalent than it is in liberal Seattle. No one in the state legislature has introduced a bill related to crisis pregnancy centers since 2012, when a proposal to prevent CPCs from misleading pregnant people died in committee.
A more sweeping 2015 law, known as the Reproductive FACT Act, required crisis pregnancy centers to inform potential clients that California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to reproductive health care, prenatal care, and abortion; it also required unlicensed CPCs to disclose that they were not medical facilities. CPCs challenged the law and the US Supreme Court struck it down in a 5-4 decision in 2015.
In 2017, the Seattle/King County Board of Health passed a rule requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post two 11-by-17-inch signs saying “This facility is not a health care facility.” King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski cited the Supreme Court’s decision on the FACT Act a year later as one reason the county didn’t propose a more sweeping law. County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who was defeated last year, was the only board of health member to vote against the rule; before the vote, she circulated through the crowd in council chambers, passing out anti-abortion literature.
Seattle’s legislation, which is certain to pass, will have less impact than would countywide legislation imposing similar rules; state legislation would be more effective still, because it would apply everywhere, including rural areas where anti-abortion sentiment is more prevalent than it is in liberal Seattle. No one in the state legislature has introduced a bill related to crisis pregnancy centers since 2012, when a proposal to prevent CPCs from misleading pregnant people died in committee.
1. The state Public Employee Relations Commission, which arbitrates labor disputes within state agencies, reversed a decision that allowed unarmed “campus responders” to provide public safety services at University of Washington residence halls and ordered the UW to restore police patrols, represented by a different union, at the dorms. The ruling orders the UW to reassign campus cops to patrol its residence halls.
The university decided to eliminate armed dorm patrols in 2020 after protests against police violence prompted calls to divest from police across the city and nation.
The divided decision, signed by Commissioners Marilyn Sayan and Kenneth Pedersen, found that the university had failed to bargain in good faith with its campus police union when it eliminated unarmed patrols to the dorms in response to student demands for a “more holistic approach to public safety” in 2020. PubliCola broke the news about the latest PERC decision on Saturday, and covered the original decision, which was issued by a PERC examiner, last year.
The case centered on the question of whether the UW and its president, Ana Mari Cauce, had the authority to replace campus police with civilian responders without negotiating the change with the union representing the officers. The university argued that it had the authority to choose its own campus public safety model, without bargaining the changes with the union; the union argued that the issue was a matter of mandatory bargaining, and that the UW was “skimming” work away from the police department—effectively taking away an opportunity for officers to make money and giving it to new employees represented by a different union.
Although no campus police lost their jobs as the result of the shift in duties (the dissenting opinion by Commissioner Mark Busto notes that the police union “did not present evidence that the CPOs suffered any financial impact from the transfer, such as the loss of overtime”), the PERC ruling orders the UW to “make any eligible bargaining unit employees whole, with interest, by paying them wages and benefits lost as a result of the skimming found in this unfair labor practice complaint.”
2. In COVID news, PubliCola has heard from several sources that Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson recently had COVID but failed to inform her coworkers, including at least some council colleagues, about her diagnosis, as the city’s COVID protocols require for all city employees who work outside their homes. Nelson, who often appears on the council dais without a mask, did not respond to a request for comment.
Legislative staff routinely receive exposure notices from Human Resources when someone in their department tests positive and reports it to the city, but there have been significantly more informal reports of COVID than formal notices, meaning that others in the legislative department are not following the policy either. At least two other council members have had COVID, including Councilmember Tammy Morales, who mentioned her diagnosis in a recent public council meeting.
3. Additionally, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz’ brother, acting Lieutenant Avery Jaycin Diaz, is on extended leave and reportedly plans to retire after refusing to get vaccinated, which SPD policy requires. Although neither SPD nor Chief Diaz would confirm that nonvaccination was the reason for his brother’s departure, an SPD spokesman did confirm that he has not been on active duty for some time. The spokesman said Avery Diaz had not submitted his official retirement paperwork as of mid-July.
PubliCola was unable to reach Avery Diaz, and the police chief declined to comment on the record about his brother’s departure. Property records show that he sold his house in August 2021.
As of mid-July, SPD had only fired four officers for refusing to comply with vaccine mandates, although some have retired or resigned inton lieu of termination. The department has lost around 400 officers since 2020, most due to resignations or retirements, and Mayor Bruce Harrell recently announced a $2 million “recruitment and retention” plan that would providing hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 to new SPD officers.
Dozens of RVs and other vehicles had mostly disappeared from the SoDo street where they’ve been parked for more than two years on Tuesday, after a last-minute push to get everybody out before city workers showed up at 9am to clear the area. By 9:30, as the heat rose into the 80s, the street was cordoned off with “Street Closed” sawhorse placards and a few eco-blocks—heavy concrete blocks businesses use to prevent people from parking on public streets—had already appeared.
A spokesman for Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, Jamie Housen, said that between July 8 and this morning, 20 people living in their vehicles at the site had accepted offers of shelter, which means a shelter bed was available and they said they were willing to go. The city does not ensure that people who get referrals to shelter actually get there, and although Seattle does pay for Lyft rides, that practice is problematic, making underpaid rideshare drivers responsible for people who may be in crisis.
Anti-sweeps advocates called on Harrell to postpone the removal until after this week’s anticipated heat wave (as I write this, it’s 93 degrees), but Housen said the “RV remediation,” along with an encampment removal near Woodland Park later this week, is actually in the best interest of the unsheltered people being displaced.
“Someone displaced today is an elderly person with congestive heart failure who needs more care than any available shelter can provide. That person should get the health care and shelter they need, and it shouldn’t take a pandemic sweep to get it.”—Alison Eisinger, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness
“This week, the City will complete two RV remediations and one encampment removal, with the aim of addressing the public health and safety concerns at those sites while helping those experiencing homelessness get indoors, into shelter, and out of the heat,” Housen said. “No additional encampment resolutions will be conducted during the elevated heat event, but shelter referrals to get people into cool and safe places will continue.”
But most of the people living along 3rd Avenue S. just moved elsewhere; according to a staffer for City Councilmember Tammy Morales, whose district (D2) includes SoDo, they included at least two people with major medical needs—one with congestive heart failure and one with terminal cancer—that can’t be accommodated in a traditional shelter.
In a statement, Morales called Tuesday’s sweep a sign of the “continued failure of our city response to addressing the root causes of homelessness” and noted that despite the efforts of service providers, “there were not enough shelter options to move people into today despite the extensive outreach that took place this month.”
According to an internal presentation by Harrell’s office earlier this year, there are, on average, between two and five shelter beds available each night across the city, a number that is similar to previous estimates from the Human Services Department and shelter and service providers.
Alison EIsinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said it was irresponsible to displace dozens of people in the middle of a pandemic and during a heat wave. “High temperatures make it worse for people on the ground, and make it harder for staff to bring water, cooling supplies, and health care to people they can no longer locate. That’s not just bad policy, that’s wasteful, cruel, and ineffective policy,” Eisinger said
Responding to the Harrell Administration’s comment that shutting down a longtime RV encampment would get people “out of the heat,” Eisinger added, “I just learned that someone displaced today is an elderly person with congestive heart failure who needs more care than any available shelter can provide. That person should get the health care and shelter they need, and it shouldn’t take a pandemic sweep to get it.”
In her statement, Morales said that despite repeated requests, Harrell’s office has not provided them with information about encampment removals in advance.
People who need to escape the heat, including people experiencing homelessness, can go to community centers, libraries, and malls during the day; for housed people, the city suggests “moving to where it’s cooler to sleep more comfortably” and taking a cooling shower.
The Seattle Public Library has advised library staff not to carry or use naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug sold under the brand name Narcan. As a matter of policy, the library does not stock Narcan or train workers to use it.
In an email to library staff last week, a representative from the union that represents most library employees, AFSCME 2083, wrote that “the City has been very clear that they believe Good Samaritan protections do not apply to public employees administering Narcan. In light of that liability concern, we have now been informed that any employees who administer Narcan on duty may be subject to discipline, unless they are explicitly directed to do so.”
“While these employer directives are in effect—in particular the new directive NOT to administer Narcan—Local 2083 cannot support member administration of Narcan on the job,” the email continued.
The union, which did not respond to a request for comment, sent the email to its members after an unidentified library staffer informed their boss that they were bringing Narcan to work. The drug, most commonly administered as a nasal spray, temporarily reverses the effects of an opiate overdose by blocking the effects of the opiate and causing an overdose victim to start breathing again.
“[The city attorney’s] legal guidance is that a staff member, who is in a paid capacity as Library employee, is likely not covered by the law and would subsequently expose themselves and the Library to liability for injury or death resulting from inappropriately administering Narcan.”—Seattle Public Library spokeswoman
Washington State’s original Good Samaritan law, adopted in 1975 and amended several times since, says that “Any person, including but not limited to a volunteer provider of emergency or medical services, who without compensation or the expectation of compensation renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency … shall not be liable for civil damages resulting from any act or omission in the rendering of such emergency care.”
A separate law adopted in 2015 created a “standing order” allowing “any person or entity” to obtain a prescription for opiate reversal medication, such as Narcan, and use it for overdose reversal without threat of criminal or civil liability for administering overdose-reversal drugs or for any outcome that happen as as result.
A spokeswoman for the Seattle Public Library, Elisa Murray, said the library asked the City Attorney’s Office if library workers would be protected by the Good Samaritan laws. “Their legal guidance is that a staff member, who is in a paid capacity as Library employee, is likely not covered by the law and would subsequently expose themselves and the Library to liability for injury or death resulting from inappropriately administering Narcan.” Murray said the initial advice came from former city attorney Pete Holmes’ office and was subsequently confirmed by the office of current City Attorney Ann Davison.
“Bringing medicine to the workplace with the intent to administer it while working is outside of a staff member’s assigned work duties and against the Library’s direction related to Narcan,” Murray continued. The library has no plans to train staffers to use Narcan or stock the drug at library branches, “based on the Seattle Fire Department’s medical support expertise and response times.” In other words, it’s up to the Fire Department, which—like the police department—is facing staffing shortages, to respond to overdose calls on time.
The library gave a similar explanation for its decision not to stock naloxone back in 2020, when then-mayor Jenny Durkan handed out hundreds of naloxone kits to local businesses and schools in response to an uptick in overdoses from fentanyl, an opiate that is many times more potent than heroin. On Tuesday, the King County Council declared fentanyl a public health crisis. Last year, the county medical examiner confirmed that nearly 400 overdose deaths involved fentanyl; so far this year, the number of confirmed fentanyl deaths is 272. Overall, opiates have been implicated in nearly 450 deaths this year.
The Seattle Public School District stocks naloxone at every school and trains school nurses, security staff, and school administrators in how to administer the drug.
As public agencies go, SPL is in some ways an outlier. Staff at other public agencies in Seattle carry naloxone, as do other public libraries around the country, including Everett’s public library system.
For example, the Seattle Public School District stocks naloxone at every school, according to SPS prevention and intervention manager Lisa Davidson. The district also trains school nurses, security staff, and school administrators—along with anyone else who wants training—in overdose response. Most schools have multiple “designated trained responders,” according to Davidson, and district policy allows individual employees to get their own prescriptions for naloxone and use it as long as they’ve been trained to do so.
The school district’s policy also notes that under the state’s “standing order” law, “a person who possesses, stores, distributes, or administers an opioid overdose reversal medication is not subject to criminal or civil liability or disciplinary action if they acted in good faith and with reasonable care.”