Updated Apr 18, 2023 - News

Seattle mayor's order aims to curb fentanyl use

Photo illustration of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell with lines radiating from him.

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell signed an executive order Monday to try to curb drug use downtown, including launching a new overdose response unit and offering gift cards to people who accept treatment.

Why it matters: City officials say overdose deaths in Seattle rose by 72% between 2021 and 2022, from 342 fatalities to 589. A majority of those deaths were attributable to methamphetamines and fentanyl, the city said.

Details: Harrell's executive order will have the Seattle Fire Department test a new unit "dedicated to quickly engaging overdose survivors."

  • The goal is to "increase acceptance of services or referrals for support," the executive order says, while providing same-day or next-day follow-ups with patients.

At the same time, the mayor is directing the Seattle Police Department to more aggressively enforce laws against drug dealing and trafficking.

What they're saying: "The fentanyl crisis on our street is causing death and disorder," Harrell said at a press conference Monday.

  • "We have an obligation to do more."

Plus: To encourage people with substance use disorder to accept treatment, the mayor is proposing a new pilot program to supply low-value gift cards as an incentive for people to abstain from drug use.

  • The city will also seek to build a facility where people can be brought after overdoses to recover, the mayor said.

Yes, but: While the mayor's focus on recovery is a welcome one, directing police to crack down on individuals who sell drugs "is at odds with that effort," said Alison Holcomb, director of political strategies for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

  • That's because "people with substance use disorders frequently engage in subsistence-level dealing," Holcomb said in a statement provided to Axios.

The big picture: The mayor's executive order is one part of his larger Downtown Activation Plan, which involves filling vacant storefronts and reopening City Hall Park, among other steps.


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