How much secondhand smoke from drug users riding Metro Transit buses is too much?
It’s something 22-year driver Erik Christiansen worries about – more for his passengers than for himself.
Christiansen told The Dori Monson Show that he and his colleagues are seeing an increasing number of riders smoking drugs on buses – and they fear for children and pregnant women who sit near drug users inhaling fentanyl fumes.
“I take the safety of my passengers very personally,” Christiansen explained to Dori and his listeners. “It’s a public health issue.”
Dori talked to Christiansen Wednesday after a tip from reporter Gary Horcher Gary Horcher – KIRO 7 News Seattle at KIRO 7 TV. Horcher will have his own look at the drugs-on-buses problem during his 5:30 p.m. newscast on Thursday.
“Buses are being used as a convenient place to use narcotics or some other kinds of drugs,” said Christiansen. Cooking drugs on buses is easier than doing it outside “because there’s no wind and – at this point – nobody to stop them.”
While most often consumed in pill form, fentanyl fumes can also be inhaled after they are “cooked” on small pieces of foil.
Dori added that listeners often send his show “pictures from buses and trains, with addicts passed out on the floor, laying in their own vomit.”
“On Eastside routes and the northern routes – not as much,” Christiansen said. “It’s primarily the southern routes and ones through downtown (Seattle).”
Driving these latter routes takes its toll on drivers, he added.
“It is tough,” the veteran driver continued. “I changed routes to get back to the happy person I was. It was stressing me out. I was losing sleep. Now I have a decent route, and there are so many, many wonderful people on my route. I removed myself from the immediate problem of seeing the drug use.
“Unfortunately, many of my fellow workers see this on an hourly basis – I do mean hourly,” Christiansen explained. “Some see it many times in their eight-hour shift.”
Drug users often sit at the back of the bus, far from the driver, he said. It’s why Christiansen often invites new riders and pregnant women to sit closer to him at the front of the bus, he told Dori.
The driver described to listeners some of his favorite riders, including a group of boys, “about 10 or 12 years old. They’re loud and rowdy. They’re like a pack of puppies. They’re fun. What about them? Suppose they’re sitting in the back and it gets in their lungs? What’s it going to do? They don’t deserve that.
“If somebody is getting an incredible high (from smoking drugs on buses), I would imagine that leaching on to those 10-year-olds,” Christiansen said.
In a March 24 “Share & Care” virtual forum hosted by King County Metro Transit, General Manager Terry White downplayed the problem to participants.
“We understand employees have concerns about secondhand smoke from illegal and legal substances on our public transit system,” White said. “King County Public Health has provided data from studies conducted by the FDA that concluded that secondhand smoke does not show up as a positive drug screening and will not get you high.”
White recommended drivers use KN95 masks which “filter chemical and other biological particles transmitted by air.”
Why are these public rolling drug dens allowed? Dori wondered.
“Unfortunately, I cannot give you a solid answer who is allowing it to happen,” the driver responded. Having some kind of consistent enforcement presence on buses “would stop it, but I know that’s not going to happen.”
Christiansen went on to say that he believes only riders can apply pressure on Metro Transit to make it stop.
“You’re seeing this if you’re riding the bus,” the driver said. “We either live in fear or we take a stand and get this fixed. It’s up to you. Metro isn’t going to listen to the drivers. But you? You can do something. It’s up to you to do something about this.”
Listen to Dori Monson weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.