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Wash. mayor declares citywide emergency over OD hotspot

Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown’s move will add patrols to an area where drug users openly smoke fentanyl

By Alexandra Duggan
The Spokesman-Review

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown declared a citywide emergency on Tuesday over the amount of opioid use in the area of Second Avenue and Division Street.

The area, long considered a crisis point by first responders, is often a spot where drug users openly smoke fentanyl and use other narcotics. It’s also a hot spot for overdose calls, according to data from the Spokane Fire Department.

Former Mayor Nadine Woodward last year called the intersection an area of “fentanyl foils, feces, tons and tons of garbage,” and called for more police patrols.

Brown’s emergency declaration is designed to add those patrols and bolster rides for drug users who may need help from treatment and recovery facilities. As part of the declaration, the city is asking for more Narcan, which reverses overdoses, and fentanyl testing strips from the state, Brown said.

Fire Chief Julie O’Berg said year-to-date data shows overdose calls have risen 30%. As if to underscore the problem, as Brown began a news conference at the downtown fire station to announce the emergency declaration, a crew was sent on an overdose call happening nearby.

Police spokeswoman Julie Humphreys said plans were coming together to reassign two officers from the Trent Avenue homeless shelter to the Second and Division area.

Police occasionally conduct mass arrests for those openly using drugs in the area, which Humphreys said helps temporarily until “that behavior returns.”

The declaration will not allocate any additional funding to the police department, city spokeswoman Erin Hut said.

There will be extra money to pay for the treatment component. That funding will come from the state Department of Commerce’s “Right-of-Way Encampment Resolution Program,” to address homeless encampments within the corridor near Interstate 90.

The mayor said other money to pay for parts of the emergency declaration will come from the opioid settlements the state won from pharmaceutical companies and distributors.

Washington has been awarded more than $1.1 billion from such settlements. Spokane County expects to receive about $17.5 million of that during the next 14 years.

Spokane City Councilman Paul Dillon attempted to declare a state of emergency for the city in March, but his efforts were largely dismissed by Gov. Jay Inslee .

Governor’s office spokesperson Mike Faulk previously told The Spokesman-Review, “There’s really not that much that we have available to us that an emergency order would do here.

“Staff already looked a lot into it. The main thing with emergency orders is to free up state resources or cut red tape to make it easier to deliver resources. There’s not a lot of that applicable here.”

Dillon said after the conference that he believes this is a good alternative to what he was trying to accomplish.

“The bottom line is, the area is a public health crisis,” he said. “I think there’s an opportunity here for some good collaboration between community partners.”

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