Massachusetts lawmakers discuss bills to create safe consumption sites

BOSTON — According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Boston has an active cluster of HIV cases among drug users and the homeless.

Lawmakers behind three bills say safe injection sites will make communities safer from the virus and crime.

“I’ve buried too many friends and family members who died from a preventable death due to overdose,” said Jesse Clingan, Somerville City Councilor, at a State House hearing Monday.

According to a New England Journal of Medicine report, nearly 70,000 people in the United States die each year from a drug overdose.

With places of known drug use like the so-called Methadone Mile growing more populated, lawmakers on Beacon Hill say the state needs to talk about their plan for a 10-year pilot program at two or more sites across the state.

“I was totally on the opposite side, 180 degrees on the argument. It was counterintuitive for me, as it is for most people,” says Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. He says data showing the sites reduce crime, overdose deaths and the spread of infectious disease changes his mind.

“I don’t question that safe injection sites save lives. Of course they do. People are shooting drugs in their system while there are trained professionals around there. But I don’t think this is what we should be focusing on,” says Boston City Councilor Frank Baker. He testified at a hearing on the bills saying these sites aren’t a magic bullet.

He also called for the decentralization of addiction and recovery services clustered in Boston.

“I know people are horrified about Section 35, Section 12s, even drug diversion courts. We need to start getting people into treatment. We’re allowing them to stay on the street. Prolong their misery.”

But eleven countries have government-sanctioned safe consumption sites. Boston 25 News traveled to Canada to investigate how they operate.

Somerville has created a task force to open one up, and this summer Rhode Island’s governor passed legislation creating a pilot program there.

“People who drink alcohol have a safe place to drink their substance of choice. That’s a bar,” says Selene Means from advocacy organization “RI Cares.” They run an education program and this exhibit for the public.

“It is not only giving them the safe supplies but a safe space. It is better than an alleyway. It is a clean, medical facility where people are monitored by staff at all times.”

Governor Baker has said he opposes safe injection sites in favor of other services.


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