Drivers plagued by drug use on Seattle Metro

Drivers plagued by drug use on Seattle Metro
Drivers plagued by drug use on Seattle Metro

Drug use on the subway is reported by drivers. “I really had never heard of fentanyl smoking on the bus when I was employed by Metro,” one bus driver told local media. “I don’t want to be put in a predicament where I’m around drugs every day at my job – I didn’t sign up for that.” The driver complained about drug use and passive smoking on the bus lines. King County Metro data shows there were 1,885 reports of drug use on the bus system in 2022. 52 transit operators reported being exposed to drug fumes, and 16 operators filed work claims.

Metro policy strictly prohibits the use of drugs on board buses. The transit agency is currently trying to double the number of security guards to respond to security issues on buses and at transit stations, including complaints of drug use. “Metro improves safety for both employees and customers. Drug use is prohibited in transit and we are doubling our transit security staff to 140 officers with support from the council. We have added another security provider to support our efforts throughout the county. These employees are key to addressing operator and customer reports and reducing incidents on buses and at transit locations,” a Metro spokesperson wrote.

On the contrary, Seattle-King County Public Health officials say second-hand fentanyl smoke is not a threat. Dr. Scott Phillips, medical director of the Washington Poison Center, said “When someone smokes fentanyl, most of the drug has been filtered out by the user before it’s secondhand smoke. It’s not just floating around … there’s no real risk that the regular the person is exposed to passive opioid smoke.”

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Health department representatives told workers and riders that media reports often get the facts about second-hand fentanyl exposure wrong. “It’s important to note when you see fentanyl reports that you take a very critical look because there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” said Thea Oliphant-Wells, a social worker for Seattle and King County Public Health. “We don’t see people developing second-hand exposure, this just doesn’t happen. Not to say it can never happen, but we don’t see it.” Oliphant-Wells told Metro workers and riders that it’s not a bad thing for drug users to use drugs in public. “We don’t want people to use in private spaces by themselves, we want people to use somewhere where they can be detected and helped through that overdose if they overdose,” she said.

“There are no established federal or consensus limits for occupational exposure to illegal substances,” the CDC says. Williams, the bus driver from Seattle, is now on leave while he receives medical testing for exposure to fentanyl fumes. “I just know that when we’re sick, we should be checked and listened to,” he said. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a post that it does not have data on occupational exposure to illegal drugs.

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