BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh said at a forum on opioids on Thursday that they remain skeptical of so-called safe injection sites, where people suffering from drug addiction can take illegal drugs under medical supervision.
Baker, a Republican, said state officials will soon be visiting Vancouver, Canada, to see the idea in action, but he said he has seen little evidence to suggest the sites can lead people to getting the substance abuse treatment they need.
"Our goal here should be to get people into treatment," said Baker, who was a member of President Donald Trump's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
Walsh, a Democrat, said he's concerned those people suffering from addiction would become easy targets for drug dealers drawn to a safe injection site.
"I just don't see how that helps," Walsh said. "I actually think you hurt the addict because now they're going to be preyed upon more by the drug dealers because they know where they are all day long."
Safe injection sites are illegal under U.S. federal law, but that hasn't stopped states including Vermont and cities including Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle from exploring the idea. A Boston nonprofit has provided for nearly two years a space where drug users can ride out their highs but not inject illegal drugs under medical supervision.
Thursday's forum was part of The Washington Post's "Addiction in America" public discussion series looking at how communities across the nation are grappling with the deadliest drug epidemic in the country's history.
Manchester, New Hampshire, Mayor Joyce Craig, a Democrat, and addiction experts from Harvard Medical School, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and elsewhere were among the featured speakers.
New England has been among the hardest-hit regions in the opioid crisis. The rate of drug overdose deaths in the region's six states remains at or above the national average, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But there have been glimmers of hope that parts of the region might be turning a corner: Massachusetts' opioid death rate decreased 8 percent from 2016 to 2017, a first after years of double-digit increases, according to state data from this month.
Baker said the state's decline is due in part to recently enacted policies and regulations, such as boosting the number of available substance abuse treatment beds and imposing limits on the prescription of powerful opioid painkillers.
But he said more steps need to be taken, including lawmaker approval of his plan to let police officers and medical professionals force people into addiction treatment even against their will and his plan to establish state standards for recovery coaches, who help people overcome addiction.
"We're still very much in the middle of this," Baker said. "We have miles and miles to go."