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Senate Candidates Spar Over Safe Injection Sites

September 28, 2018

Lowell Sun

LOWELL -- Republican candidate John MacDonald has issued a warning for the community: If Democratic candidate Edward Kennedy is elected this fall to the state Senate, downtown streets will be rife with homelessness, crime, prostitution and disease.

There will even be “safe injection sites” in Lowell and across the 1st Middlesex District, MacDonald predicts.

That’s the future picture he’s painting of the community in the wake of Kennedy’s remarks about supervised injection sites.

Last month at the UMass Lowell debate for the 1st Middlesex District Democratic primary, Kennedy said he could support a trial program in a community to see if it was effective saving lives, but that he generally thinks such sites are a bad idea.

“I don’t think it’s an answer at all,” Kennedy said during the debate. “It may provide for safe drug use, but that’s not what our end game should be.

“I don’t really see the long-term upside of something like that,” the Lowell city councilor added.

MacDonald is now attacking Kennedy for his trial-program stance.

The Republican from Lowell stresses that these sites are not a solution for Massachusetts, and that “implementing the progressive policies my opponent supports is not the answer.”

“Placing safe injection sites in every city and town is not the answer,” MacDonald said. “Where would Lowell, Westford, Tyngsboro, Pepperell, Groton and Dunstable place a safe injection facility?”

Kennedy responded this week that MacDonald is spreading falsehoods about his record. Kennedy reiterated that he doesn’t support supervised injection facilities.

However, if a community wanted to try it on a trial basis, “I would not object to that,” Kennedy said.

“Everybody’s looking for solutions to the opioid crisis,” he said. “It’s always good to keep an open mind.”

MacDonald brought up the issue of supervised injection facilities after recently visiting San Francisco. He was on the West Coast for a business trip, and then extended his stay to review the city’s policies, he said.

He remembered San Francisco as a vibrant city 15 years ago, MacDonald recalled. But on his recent visit, he said it’s a completely different place, rampant with homelessness and open drug use. Officials are backing supervised injection facilities.

“Progressive Democrat policies have been the demise of San Francisco,” he said. “Many of the same policies that Massachusetts progressive State Senate Democrat lawmakers are pushing here have already been incorporated in San Francisco. The results are tragic, and I am fighting against them.”

He called supervised injection facilities “morally and ethically wrong.”

Instead of those sites, the state should come up with “bold ideas” to reverse the opioid epidemic, he said. Homeless shelters should be converted to “life treatment” centers, he said.

Rather than focusing on just temporary shelter, they should focus on drug recovery, life coaching and reentry into the workforce, MacDonald said. These people should be immediately placed into a 120-day drug treatment program, he added.

Kennedy’s solutions include more beds for treatment, and toughening laws for people who deal fentanyl.

In addition, it’s important to have prescription drug monitoring programs, and to have opioid education in schools and hospitals, Kennedy said.

“Hospitals should be required to have someone sit down with you, and tell you the dangers of opioids, and exactly what you’re in store for,” Kennedy said.

Experts and officials have grappled with the opioid epidemic for years.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said law enforcement and their partners have been proactive in identifying the most effective ways to help those struggling with substance use disorder.

“This often means being flexible and innovative,” she said in a statement. “With any new program, it is important to look at the research and to work with experts and key stakeholders to determine what approach will be the most effective.

“As we continue to seek the best way to reduce fatal overdoses and save lives we must consider all our options, including harm-reduction strategies,” Ryan added.

Bill Garr, the CEO of Lowell House, said the organization doesn’t have a stance on supervised injection facilities. However, they’re keeping an open mind, he said. He pointed out that supervised injection facilities violate federal law.

In foreign cities, such as Vancouver, data shows that the sites save lives, Garr said. At the same time, people argue that the community should not support the dangerous use of heroin, he added.

“There are certainly arguments on both sides,” Garr said.

The Massachusetts Medical Society last year came out in support of a pilot for a supervised injection facility in the state.

Henry Dorkin, immediate past president of MMS, said this week that the sites save lives, based on data from other countries.

“We think it would be highly useful for the commonwealth to initiate a supervised injection facility pilot in the state, look at how well it works, and make a decision on expanding the program,” Dorkin said.

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