Last Friday, July 16, local politicians, experts and healthcare workers in harm reduction joined a virtual briefing in support of legislation introduced to reduce opioid-related deaths. The legislation was proposed by state Representative Dylan A. Fernandes (D-Falmouth), state Representative Marjorie C. Decker (D-Cambridge) and state Senator Julian A. Cyr (D-Truro).
If approved, the legislation would create a pilot program to establish at least two safe consumption sites in Massachusetts, making it the second state in the country to do so. Earlier this month, Rhode Island became the first state to approve supervised injection sites.
Safe, or supervised, consumption sites are locations that prevent overdose deaths by allowing individuals to safely use pre-obtained substances in a secure environment with trained medical supervision.
“Look, we’ve got to get this done,” Rep. Fernandes said in his opening statements during the meeting. “We can all agree that no one with a substance misuse disorder should be treated like a criminal and that anyone with a substance misuse disorder, who is suffering, that we as a society and we as a state need to do everything we can to keep them alive and get them into the treatment they so sorely need.”
According to the Massachusetts State House press release, more than 20,000 Massachusetts residents have died of opioid overdoses since 2000, and more than 2,000 lives are lost each year.
“Every death from opioids is preventable, and with 2,000 residents dying each year in the state from an overdose, it is morally wrong that we continue to ban safe consumption sites from operating in the state,” he said. “These sites will save the lives of our neighbors, friends and family members, increase access to treatment, and lead to long-term recovery.”
“We can’t discount out any option that has the potential to save lives from the opioid epidemic,” said Sen. Cyr, who is Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “As opioid use disorder continues to ravage too many lives in the Bay State, the legislation we filed would pilot supervised consumption sites in the commonwealth and offer public health workers a crucial new tool to save lives.”
In addition to saving lives, safe consumption sites have been proven to reduce local healthcare costs, improve public safety, reduce transmission of HIV and hepatitis, and provide a pathway to treatment for addiction, the release said.
Since opening a safe consumption site in Vancouver in 2003, local deaths from overdoses have declined by 35 percent and no individuals using the site have died as a result, the release said.
“After just one year, the safe consumption site in Vancouver referred 3,000 people to addiction counseling, admittance of intravenous drug users to local emergency departments declined from 35 percent to 9 percent, and ambulance calls in the community dropped by 67 percent,” the release said.
Rep. Decker, who is House chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Public Health, said, “With overdose deaths on the rise and Massachusetts ranking eighth in overdose mortality, we must meet the moment we’re in with the urgency required to save lives. Safe consumption sites are one important path to saving lives and addressing the stigma associated with addiction.”
The bills are in the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. Individuals will be allowed to testify at a public hearing for the bills in the coming months.