Some Say Supervised Injection Sites Will Help Curb Opioid Crisis
At a public hearing held last week regarding a bill that’s been filed to help ease Massachusetts’ opioid abuse crisis, Republican Governor Charlie Baker was forced to comment on an out-of-the-box way of thinking that may, at first, seem alarming: Creating safe places at which drug users can shoot up in the presence of staff trained in helping counter the effect of fatal overdoses, all with the approval of public health officials. The Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Hospital Association have endorsed the idea, and the overwhelming battle with opioids have prompted some lawmakers, activists and medical groups across the nation to endorse “supervised injection sites” as another way to reduce deaths.
“As far as the data I’ve seen is concerned, it has not demonstrated any legitimate success in creating a pathway to treatment,” Baker responded, declining to back the notion. “The harm reduction argument I think is a much better one, but I’m kind of a hard sell on that one.”
The Massachusetts Medical Society found supervised injection sites can reduce overdose mortality and increase access to drug treatment, according to a report it published in 2017 based on research on two such sites in Canada and Australia. The report called for the creation of a pilot supervised injection facility program in Massachusetts, and the group said the state should seek an exemption from federal drug laws for the pilot program and consider partnering with other states.
“I’ve lost a lot of very close friends due to overdosing, some of whom have died right in front of me,” a 32-year-old Boston resident who declined to provide her real name said. She added that she would use such a site to ensure that didn’t happen to her. “Another benefit for me would be being in a safe space and not having to hide and being able to talk openly about substance abuse and not having to inject alone.”
There have been efforts to establish safe injection sites in various locations throughout the United States, including California, New York, and Vermont as well as Seattle, Denver and San Francisco. Injection sites are already legal in a number of countries including Australia, Canada, and Spain. In Massachusetts, a bill sponsored by Democratic State Senator William Brownsberger, was filed and has just over a dozen co-sponsors out of a 200-member Legislature. Brownsberger hopes that passing the legislation will help to save lives and get people into treatment.
“Whether or not it’s a good idea depends on the whole context and whether it’s actually set up in way that’s going to work,” he said.
Baker’s proposal, which doesn’t include injection sites, would let police officers, physicians, and other medical personnel bring high-risk individuals to treatment centers, even against their will, for up to three days. It would also set standards for addiction “recovery coaches” and make it easier to prescribe smaller amounts of opioid painkillers. Boston’s Marty Walsh and
Springfield’s Domenic Sarno, both Democrats mayors, are, so far, also opposed to injection sites. Much like Baker, they believe the focus should be on already established means of treatment.