Suggestions Aren’t Working…


Perhaps we see just what we want to see. I wonder, walking a section of blocks downtown, walking past the usual, what those legislators and some on our city council who oppose this week’s state legislature vote to make drug possession and public use of hard drugs classified as gross misdemeanors, actually see.

I’d recommend to the naysayers a short walk of their own — to see the folks who need help sprawled out, vacant-eyed in door fronts and alleys, to see the straws and folded foil used to suck in the fentanyl, to watch the money taken by the peddlers of this poison.

In all those walks over months now, I’ve seen all of it. I’ve talked to officers who told me that since the courts determined that possessing and using unlawful drugs could not be classified as a felony, all they could do was suggest treatment to users. Suggest, nothing more. So I ask again, how does that help the abuser, lost in addiction, and how does it help our downtown, our citizens who walk by the addiction clusters on a handful of downtown streets?

At least with the new state law, enforcement is possible, arrests are possible – not to jail offenders, let us hope, but to direct them to treatment. Enforcement ends the choice to keep on openly possessing and inhaling fentanyl and other illegal drugs; it means arrest and at least the chance of finding a path out of addiction. It means a safer and more welcoming downtown. With what’s been the status quo, almost no chance.

I’ve had enough of an approach that simply hasn’t worked. There’s a good bet I’m not the only one.

Mike James
Mike James
Mike James was a long-time anchor newscaster at KING TV.


  1. Laws and/or the lack of laws are neither causes of the fentanyl or a path to solution. Frustration is everywhere as drug addiction and homelessness defy money, plans, and initiatives to reduce the ongoing crises. Treatment is needed as you suggest. But we know that treatment programs have high recidivism rates. Try finding statistics and you’ll find little to nothing of value. We know alcohol addiction, heroin and hard drugs see users in treatment return to their habits more than half the time with studies that return rates as high as 80% and more.
    There are anecdotal and individual efforts that have shown promise but nothing on more than a hyper-local level. There is one inescapable fact that anyone in the field will tell you. Each drug abuser, each homeless person is a case unto themselves. Psychiatrists and psychologists have understood this since their disciplines were created: every patient is different. That fact alone is what anyone facing fentanyl, any other drug abuse or addiction faces as a starting point to any solution. Frustration will not change anything.

  2. There was an interesting and, I think, informative article in The Seattle Times a few days ago about an approach to drug treatment that had been studied using a scientific approach and found to work. It did not involve arrests or ‘hoping’ for an available place in a treatment program. It did not propose a one-size-fits-all solution. The lead researcher presented the research and its findings to legislators. Whether any of them learned anything is an open question. Whether readers of the newspaper learned anything is unclear, too.

    I agree with Mr. James that the sight of people who use drugs can be horrific — suffering people who need help but find none, or think there is none; and onlookers who are judgmental and seeking anything that would change the situation, but who can only walk on by.

    The new legislation will not address the ‘drug problem’ in any substantial way. I wish I didn’t have to say that. I think we as a society have not faced the unpleasant facts that doing the same thing, or a variation of it, over and over again, with failed results, has solved nothing.

  3. I agree with the writer: Those of us on the left side of the spectrum need to acknowledge that law-and-order is the only remaining option to direct addicts and the mentally ill into treatment programs. The vast squandering of public and private funds on alternative programs has proven ineffective and, ultimately, inhumane: allowing the treatment- and shelter-resistant to fester in dystopia is a failure of recent leadership and the citizenry (including me) who elected those leaders. To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. I take pride in paying my share of taxes, and I took pride in raising substantial sums for United Way of King County by running my workplace fundraising campaigns. Yet despite our city’s increased wealth and unprecedented government treasuries, Seattle has become increasingly uncivilized. Seattleites are being shortchanged.

  4. KOMO’s ‘Seattle Is Dying’ offered some good solutions, and real-world examples of what is working in other regions. I don’t think our elected officials have paid much attention though.

    Despite all of the millions being spent, it doesn’t appear much effort is focused on cutting off the drug supply, particularly of fentanyl, which is now the leading cause of death among Americans 18-45. We already have laws in place to prosecute the suppliers and dealers. We just need enforcement. The ‘Defund the Police’ movement certainly didn’t help, nor does a wide open Southern Border.

  5. As someone who has dealt with addiction in my family, I keep saying over and over that every person on the streets using drugs is the child or brother or sister or parent of someone. And to think that doing nothing is compassionate is immoral. And there are few addicts who “want” to get sober, particularly in the height of their addiction. So carrots are not working, but carrots and sticks may help at least a few and frankly, that is a few more than we have been helping recently.

  6. We will see if arrests and incarceration increase.
    Sadly, jail can be the safest place for an addict. My concerns are two-fold (1) there may not be enough room in the jail and (2) there are unfortunately too few – very few – inpatient facilities.
    Sadly, I think we fall short on both counts.

  7. Homelessness is one issue — drug-dependency is another. The two ills feed off of one another. Of the two, I believe illicit drugs use is the harder, more insidious problem to solve.

    Why are we trying to solve a drugs problem by asking permission of the

    Is there any objective data proving that rehab works with fentanyl users who are already in desperate straits — living on the streets, surviving by cadging handouts and through petty theft? Once a person has slid into the bottomless pit of addiction, is there a greater than zero chance that he will be able to climb back out?

    And then, if the addict should actually return to sobriety, what chance is there that even the most able individuals could maintain a decent standard of living in King County, given our area’s high costs fro rent (and just about everything else with the possible exception of the utility bill)?

    The old way looking at addiction was that it was a crime, and we knew how to deal with that – by incarceration Though it did not cure the craving for drugs, it took the abusers off the streets for a time.

    The current approach is to consider drug dependency as a physical affliction, like a disease. But the conflation is inapt; people try to avoid disease, but some willingly ingest or inject dangerous drugs, and develop a craving for more. There are cures for many diseases, but the the cure for the craving – rehab – only seems to work if the the patient wants to get better and has the emotional and material resources to stay clean afterwards.

    Through excessively tolerant drug laws and unwillingness to prosecute the property crimes which support users’ habits, public areas of Seattle, Portland and San Francisco (and other cities) have become open-air drug dens. We need to think first of the health and hygiene of our city, and not so much abut the health of our addicted population.

    After years of failing to curtail drug use, shoplifting and public intoxication, we have become complicit in these criminal behaviors which are degrading the quality of life for everyone.

    • Your suggestion becomes an either/or solution with your choice of protect society. Ultimately that doesn’t work either because it does nothing about what you also identify as a societal problem whether defined as a disease or something else.
      The universality of addiction as a problem will, as you suggest, not go away if we lock em up.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.