BU News Service
BOSTON – Doctors, legislators and medical students spoke during a recent Statehouse hearing in support of implementing so-called “safe injection sites” – facilities where trained medical personnel oversee people using illicit substances.
The safe injection sites, also known as safe injection facilities or safe consumption facilities, are public health spaces that provide hygienic equipment and areas for people who use drugs to take pre-obtained illicit substances. Trained medical staff are on-site in case of overdose, according to the Massachusetts Medical Society.
But U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling is on record as being strongly opposed to the practice, saying it “amount(s) to giving up” on the opioid crisis. Last week he reaffirmed his position after a federal judge ruled in favor of a Pennsylvania nonprofit seeking to open a safe injection site, ruling it would not violate federal drug laws.
Despite the controversy, speakers at the Statehouse hearing strongly favored implementing a “pilot” safe injection site in Massachusetts.
“Supervised injection facilities are an important, evidence-based tool that should be incorporated into the commonwealth’s comprehensive approach,” said Henry Dorkin, former president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, in reading testimony on behalf of the society at the hearing.
While there has been an overall decrease in opioid-related overdose deaths, Michael Botticelli, executive director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center, said some communities are still experiencing increases.
Framingham is among those communities. Opioid-related deaths in the city rose from 11 in 2014 to 12 in 2015 and 18 in 2016. After decreasing to eight in 2017, opioid-related deaths jumped to 19 last year.
From 2014 to 2018, Framingham lost 68 people in opioid-related overdose deaths, making it the MetroWest community most affected by the crisis. Natick was next, with 26 people dying in that time frame.
Framingham also reported 199 opioid-related emergency medical incidents in 2018.
Supervised injection facilities are not a new approach to addressing opioid usage. In fact, countries throughout the world, including Canada, already have safe injection programs. Insite, which opened in Vancouver in 2003, was the first legal supervised consumption site in North America.
Insite has yet to report an overdose death, and has intervened in 6,440 cases. Moreover, in the facility’s vicinity there has been a 35% decrease in the number of lethal overdoses, according to the MMA.
Massachusetts is among the 10 states “with the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths,” according to the medical society. This contributes to driving the state’s conversation about solutions to the opioid crisis.
Existing opioid-related harm reduction efforts in the commonwealth, Dorkin said, focus on increasing access to naxalone, a medication used to reverse overdoses; expanding needle exchange programs; and public awareness campaigns.
“Current strategies,” Botticelli said, “are insufficient to meet the landscape.”
This story was originally published in MetroWest Daily News.