CHARLESTOWN, Mass. — It's the opportunity to see what a safe injection site might look like here in Massachusetts. This week, Charlestown MGH Health Center is creating a mock supervised safe injection facility to give people a firsthand look of what they might look like here in the Bay State.
It’s the first time a safe injection show-and-tell of sorts is being offered to the public here in the Commonwealth.
A doctor at MGH Charlestown Health Care Center is in charge of the mock site. He says he's personally lost dozens of patients to overdose deaths and feels one of these sites could save lives.
"I think it's a visual for the public," said Dr. Mark Eisenberg a Primary Care Physician and Addiction Specialist at MGH Charlestown Health Care Center. "We're allowing people to stay safe and alive until such time they want to seek help or stop using drugs."
For Dr. Eisenberg, this week is an opportunity to presenting the public with an eye-opening education on a concept that remains controversial in the opioid epidemic. That idea is something he's had the chance to see in operation in Canada and Europe, where safe injection sites are legal.
"I've personally visited sites in Vancouver and Europe," Dr. Eisenberg said. "When you see what happens there, patients who use drugs are treated with respect by peers who work with them, and you can see that’s the kind of place patients who use drugs migrate to get help."
The primary care physician and addiction specialist at MGH Charlestown Health Care Center has played a front-and-center role in organizing this week’s three-day open house from Wednesday to Friday.
Included in that open house is a mock safe injection facility.
"There will be people at table educating [the] public and taking people through the steps," Dr. Eisenberg said.
No such site has gotten legal permission to open in the United States, but earlier this month a federal judge ruled in favor of a Philadelphia non-profit group’s plan to open the first safe injection facility in the U.S. There people can legally inject drugs under medical supervision.
The mayor of Somerville has already said he plans to open one by next year, despite federal law.
"The decision in Philadelphia just helps take some of the air out of the bogus argument that’s been floating around," said Jim Stewart, who is with Safe Injection Facilities for Massachusetts Now. "You're just trying to be there in case there’s an adverse outcome."
Stewart is bringing the medical equipment and supplies to Charlestown MGH for this week's mock site, including a mirror and a tent that will be set up in a second-floor conference room.
"We want to try to demystify what people think these places are," Stewart said. "All we want to do is demonstrate what the protocol would be, what the procedures are, what the opportunities could be if these facilities were made legal in Massachusetts."
Just to be clear, no drugs will be injected here during this open house. It is just an opportunity to give the public a sense of what a safe injection site might look like. It'll also feature a panel discussion including Dr. Eisenberg and a parent who lost his son to a drug overdose.
The mock site will be open to public at MGH Charlestown – located at 73 High Street – from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on October 16, 17 and 18. The panel will be taking place on Thursday, October 17 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.