A town once deemed “most hippie” in Washington recently outlawed drug use after a spike in fentanyl overdoses that included the death of a 5-year-old girl.
Edwin Williams, a city council member in Bellingham, Washington, said overdoses became so commonplace in his city that one dead body was left on a bench for 12 hours.
“A man was sitting on the curb in a parking lot with his head bowed, right out in the open … and a police officer told me that he had been dead for at least 12 hours,” Williams told The New York Post in a report on Bellingham published Sunday. “It shocked me to my core.”
The Bellingham City Council voted in April to make open drug use an arrestable crime — a decision that came two years after the Washington legislature decriminalized hard-drugs in response to a decision at the state’s Supreme Court.
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The reversal from city leaders came after a 5-year-old overdosed on fentanyl in March, as well as two teenagers. The Bellingham Fire Department said it responded to more than two overdoses per day from January to April 12 — a rate nearly double that of the year prior, according to Cascadia Daily.
“I have lived here for 30 years, and no, I haven’t seen anything like this,” Williams told The New York Post. “I would characterize our city as one that is trying and willing to bend over backwards to help and provide people with programs to address either addiction or homelessness.”
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“But at this point— the combination of COVID, the pervasiveness of fentanyl and the state law being changed— pushed everything to the limit,” Williams continued. “It was just the perfect storm and at some point, something had to be done.”
In 2018, local media boasted that Bellingham in particular was named by the site OnlyInYourState as “the most hippie town in Washington.” Since then, however, casualties from drug use have spiked.
Overdose deaths in Bellingham jumped from 11 in 2018 to 89 in 2022, according to the Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office.
A decision at the Washington Supreme Court in 2021 struck down a law that made simple drug possession a felony. State legislators responded to the decision with a drug decriminalization law that is set to expire in July. The state Senate attempted but failed to push through a bill criminalizing drug use last month.
Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., has pushed to end decriminalization in the state in response to the fentanyl crisis.
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