Success of safe injection sites met with skepticism on Beacon Hill

BOSTON — More than 2,000 people died from opioid-related overdoses in Massachusetts in 2016.

The depth of the opioid crisis is leading some lawmakers and medical professionals to suggest supervised injection sites.

In a report released last year, the Massachusetts Medical Society found supervised injection sites can reduce deaths and increase access to drug treatment.

Much of the research for the study was based on two sites in Canada and Australia.

There have been efforts to create safe injection sites in some states, including New York, California and Vermont.

In Massachusetts, legislation has been filed to let state health officials allow the sites, but many leaders are skeptical about them, including Governor Charlie Baker.

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Governor Baker recently filed a bill to help ease the state's opioid abuse crisis. The bill would allow police officers and medical professionals to bring high-risk people to treatment centers against their will for up to 72 hours, among other measures.

Baker said he hasn't seen convincing data that safe injection sites would create a pathway to treatment.

The secretary of health and human services says on a federal level, it's illegal for medical professionals to be in the presence of someone injecting themselves with heroin, which is also an obstacle to a safe injection site program.

The mayors of Boston and Springfield believe the focus should be on treatment instead of safe injection sites.

A study of Canada's pilot program that launched in 2003 concluded, "Vancouver's safer injecting facility has been associated with an array of community and public health benefits without evidence of adverse impacts."

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