The tragic impact of Seattle’s drug crisis – and what to do about it
July 25, 2023
Seattle’s growing drug crisis doesn’t just impact a few hundred unfortunate drug addicts or those who are habitually involved in crimes, it has impacted nearly every resident and visitor to the city.
Most are aware of the disturbing news items which reveal just how much illegal drugs, and the crime associated with drug activity, has drastically changed our community. These include:
- In 2022 the number of drug overdose deaths in King County broke previous records by an incredible 41.2% (709 to 1,001). And tragically thus far in 2023, the number of overdose deaths is on pace to break last year’s record by another 32%!
- The King County Medical Examiner’s office stated it ran out of refrigerated space to keep bodies due to the high number of drug overdose deaths.
- The U.S. Post Office went against its famous motto that nothing will prevent its carriers from the “swift completion of their appointed rounds” when it suspended service to one South Seattle zip code due to postal theft and other crimes.
- People are afraid to ride mass transit due to open illegal drug use on buses and trains. This forced Sound Transit to hire more security officers.
- The park next to the King County Court House (the symbol of our region’s judicial system) was closed by authorities due to open drug use and associated crime. Many other neighborhood parks were also closed because of drugs and crime, while parents across the city remain nervous to allow their children to play in parks due to legitimate concerns over used needles.
- Seattle Downtown retail core continues to languish as consumers would rather shop in locations which don’t have dangerous open-air drug markets on many street corners.
Despite the disruption illegal drug activity has had on the daily lives of average citizens, the Seattle City Council on June 6th voted down a proposal by Councilmember Sara Nelson (by a 5-4 margin) to allow the city attorney’s office to prosecute those who possess or publicly use such illegal drugs as fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine.
Respected drug treatment professionals and law enforcement officials agree that the threat of prosecution is often the incentive drug addicts need to change their destructive lifestyle. It isn’t until an addict reaches his or her “bottom” that they become willing to accept treatment. By using the threat of serving jail time, prosecutors are able to entice addicts to accept the help they need to become productive members of their community.
A week after the council’s actions, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell (who was noticeably silent leading up to the vote) said, the council’s defeat of Councilmember Nelson’s measure was “misaligned with what the vast majority of people want in this city.” The mayor announced the formation of a 24-person “work group” (mostly made up of city employees) to provide recommendations on what should be done next. A public timeline has not been provided for when the work group will report its findings.
While it appears the mayor is pushing to have Seattle’s elected officials follow the will of the public, many are critical of the formation of a work group filled with city bureaucrats to determine what needs to be done. We already know what needs to happen – it’s right here in front of us.
Seattle simply needs to do what many other cities across the state (even including the very liberal college community of Bellingham) have already done – pass a measure to allow for the prosecution of those who violate the state’s new drug possession laws.
In King County, many cities (including Bellevue, Federal Way, Renton, and Kent) have already passed necessary measures to prosecute those who possess illegal drugs. Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said, “We cannot stand idly by while individuals die of overdose or watch drug-related property and violent crimes continue to impact our neighborhoods and businesses.”
While the City of Seattle may not be standing “idly by” with the 24-person work group, it is still moving at a snail’s pace while nearly four people a day are dying from drug overdoses. It is abundantly clear to many people that the first step to ending this crisis is for Seattle politicians to do what so many other local officials in the state have already done – pass a measure today to allow the city attorney to prosecute those who break the state’s drug laws.
If elected officials do not do this soon, the city can expect to see those who face criminal charges elsewhere will quickly come to Seattle where they will be free to continue their drug related activities. This will only make the city’s drug crisis even worse.
Contact Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell today and tell him to not wait any longer to end Seattle’s lethal drug crisis by actively encouraging the city council to pass necessary drug prosecution measures.