Mass. lawmakers using Canada's positive results to push for safe injection sites

BOSTON — A group of state lawmakers are pushing for a controversial pilot program aimed at addressing the opioid crisis.

The program would open safe spaces for people to inject drugs -- called "supervised injection sites."

That term is commonly used around the world, but Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Middlesex) uses the term "harm reduction site.”

She says it includes the goal she's fighting so hard for: reducing harm for injection drug users and communities.

Stocked with medical equipment and a nurse’s station, it may surprise you to see a room where people go to inject illegal drugs in front of medical professionals.

Supervised injection sites have seen success in cities like Vancouver and Montreal.

“This is about being serious and putting our words into action,” Sen. Friedman said. “If this were another illness, another disease and there was evidence there was a procedure out there that was working for a lot of people, we wouldn't even think twice about it.”

Friedman is referring to the data from Vancouver, Canada, which saw a 35 percent drop in deaths and overdoses in neighborhoods with these facilities. With thousands of people dying from overdoses and recent HIV and Hepatitis C outbreaks, Friedman says now is the time to test these sites here.

“You can't know if you don't try and doing a pilot is a very safe way to see what the results are,” Friedman said. “We're not talking about opening a harm reduction site on every corner, on every street. We're looking at places where it would be most effective.”

Once inside, drug users receive sterile equipment, while staff respond to any overdoses and provide support.

“If a person is overdosing, we will be able to notice a change in their face and be able to give proper care to that person,” Sanadhia Vadlamundy, a staff member at the Montreal site, said.

Governor Charlie Baker has previously said that he isn't convinced these sites could work in Massachusetts.

“The question I have is: are we not convinced by the data? Or are we not convinced because it's an uncomfortable idea that we'd be providing a safe environment for people to do something we know isn't good for them but that we believe is going to move them into the direction of becoming healthy again?” Friedman said.

The senator is hoping to include this provision in the senate opioid bill. she told us several communities have already expressed interest in taking part in this pilot program.

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