SUDDERS: FED LAW LOOMS AS OBSTACLE TO SUPERVISED INJECTION SITES
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 11, 2018....The Baker administration's health and human services chief said Thursday she's "open to understanding more about" supervised injection sites for drug users, but that federal law would pose a challenge to launching any in Massachusetts.
"It's just completely illegal federally, so it's hard for me to sort of make the leap of how you actually do that in our state at this time," Secretary Marylou Sudders said in an interview on WGBH Radio. "But I have not -- this is my personal opinion -- I have not dismissed it as something we may need to consider, particularly if we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic."
Supervised injection sites, also known as safe injection sites, are locations where people can use drugs they have already obtained elsewhere, with health care professionals or other trained staff on hand in case of complications.
Eleven countries have safe injection site laws on their books, and such facilities are operational in 10 of those countries, according to Sudders. She said she has been trying to get to Vancouver to visit one there but her schedule has not allowed a trip.
"I want to see it for myself and not just have people report to me," she said.
Like other states, Massachusetts has been grappling with a rising rate of opioid overdose deaths and has pursued various strategies to stem the tide.
A Sen. Will Brownsberger bill (S 1081) now before the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery would allow the Department of Public Health to approve the implementation of "safer drug consumption programs" in Massachusetts, provided the local board of health had already signed off.
Legislative committees face a Feb. 7 deadline to report out bills favorably or unfavorably, though they can ask for an extension.
Fourteen other lawmakers -- of the 200-member Legislature -- have signed on to Brownsberger's bill as cosponsors. Before passing its fiscal 2018 budget in May 2017, the Senate agreed to a Sen. Joseph Boncore amendment calling for a feasibility study focusing on public health and safety impacts of supervised injection sites, but that provision was dropped from the final version agreed to by House-Senate negotiators.
The concept of supervised injection sites has support from major players in the state's medical community. The Massachusetts Medical Society voted last year to endorse a state pilot program for supervised injection facilities, and the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association's Board of Trustees voted unanimously to advocate for the creation of such facilities.
At a September hearing on Brownsberger's bill, supporters told of friends and family who used drugs alone because of stigma around addiction and ended up fatally overdosing, with no around one to intervene. "If I wasn't part of this society, I'd be like, you guys are crazy," said Jess Tilley, who founded an organization called the New England Drug Users Union. "But the point is, people are doing this anyways. People aren't going to stop using. Recovery for me is not an option....I should not have to die, I should not have to become a statistic because I choose to use an illicit substance."
Opponents of the measure said the sites could pose a temptation for people in recovery and urged lawmakers to focus instead on treatment and helping people stay clean.
"Why are we giving them the same thing that's keeping people high and killing them? These are like assisted suicide houses," Savina Martin, a Roxbury native who said she has worked in the fields of addiction and sobriety for over 30 years and has been sober for over 25 years herself, said at the hearing.
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