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Spokane ratifies state of emergency over opioid crisis; what happens next?

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(The Center Square) – Spokane’s City Council convened for a special legislative session on Thursday, ratifying Mayor Lisa Brown’s executive order declaring a state of emergency over the opioid crisis.

Earlier this week, Brown announced that the declaration would extend citywide, with an emphasis on the 2nd and Division Street corridor. The state of emergency allows Brown’s administration to streamline funding for contracts without going through a proposal process requiring the City Council’s approval, which could take weeks if not months, she said.

In March, the City Council passed a resolution that requested Gov. Jay Inslee declare a state of emergency. However, he opted otherwise, leading Brown to leverage her political power to address a rise in opioid overdoses.

Tuesday’s press conference featured Brown as well as Spokane Fire Chief Julie O’Berg, who said the city’s overdose rate jumped 30% since this time last year and 83% when considering the county as a whole.

“We’re here today because our community is dealing with the devastating impacts of fentanyl and other opioids,” Brown said. “You heard the sirens leave just now, and the chief informed me that, in fact, they were going on an overdose call.”

The Mayor’s first action under the declaration was reopening Spokane’s Cannon Street Shelter, which will now serve around 30 people for the next two months. Empire Health Foundation will operate the “temporary transition shelter” under a new contract funded by the Department of Commerce.

Brown also immediately partnered with a local organization called Consistent Care, which will execute the city’s High Utlizer Initiative using opioid settlement funds received in April.

Other partnerships include the Spokane Treatment and Recovery Services, which operates a program that transports people under the influence to a nearby medical or treatment facility. The Spokane Fire Department also issued a standing order to provide “medical intervention for withdrawal management.”

In conjunction with those efforts, the city requested additional doses of Narcan and fentanyl test strips from the state and is working with law enforcement up to the federal level to tackle the area’s drug market.

“With this declaration, we can sign contracts today,” Brown said, “and that means people will be putting these services to work immediately.”

The Mayor’s executive order follows an ongoing effort to get the city’s finances in check as it grapples with an approximately $50 million structural deficit. However, the City Council’s resolution ratifying the declaration provides some means to avoid making matters worse.

“Pursuant to [Spokane Municipal Code] 7.06.180, the Mayor or her [delegate] may make emergency procurements consistent with the provisions of Chapter 7.06, … so long as such contracts or procurements do not commit general fund dollars or funds received by the City under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” according to the resolution.

The City of Spokane’s state of emergency will continue through the beginning of September unless Brown chooses to terminate the executive order sooner.