Commission recommends creation of supervised injection sites
BOSTON (AP) — A legislative commission is recommending state lawmakers approve the creation of one or more supervised injection sites for drug users in Massachusetts.
Commission members said Tuesday that the state should allow the sites on a test basis to see if they can help reduce the harm associated with injecting illegal drugs, including the risk of overdosing alone.
Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who headed the commission, said the report will be delivered to the Legislature by the end of the week.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has previously said he would be opposed to the creation of supervised injection sites.
Sudders said she hasn’t talked to Baker about what’s in the report, but would be briefing him.
At the sites, individuals could inject drugs obtained elsewhere. Health care professionals would be on hand to prevent fatal overdoses.
The U.S. doesn’t have any publicly sanctioned safe injection facilities, but Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco are among those actively considering them. In Philadelphia, the top federal prosecutor has filed suit to stop a nonprofit from opening a supervised injection site.
Democratic Sen. Cindy Friedman, a member of the committee, acknowledged the idea of giving drug users a place to inject drugs in a supervised setting is uncomfortable.
But she said substance use disorder should be considered an illness — not a moral failure — and the supervised sites are a way to give people a chance to ultimately get free of the drugs.
“Certainly it is uncomfortable for me. The thought of it is not something that sits easy,” she said. “We just need to do everything we can to stop people from dying and allow them to live long enough to decide to get into treatment.”
Friedman and Democratic state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, who also served on the commission, acknowledged they have to try to persuade enough of their lawmakers to approve the proposal.
Roy said the report gives them a body of evidence and data to help make their case for the creation of the supervised sites.
Roy called the proposal “one more tool in the tool box that will help the commonwealth to come out of the grip” of the overdose crisis that has claimed thousands of lives in recent years.
There are more than just legislative hurdles facing the proposal.
The top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts has said supervised injection sites for drug users would violate U.S. law and could lead to criminal charges.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling last year issued a strongly worded statement warning that regardless of any state law, drug users and employees at the sites would be exposed to federal criminal charges.
“I cannot envision any scenario in which sites that normalize intravenous use of heroin and fentanyl would be off limits to federal law enforcement efforts,” Lelling said in the statement.
Advocates have likened the sites to the adoption of needle exchange programs created in the wake of the AIDS epidemic as a way to slow the spread of the disease among intravenous drug users. There are currently about two dozen needle exchange sites in Massachusetts.