Misguided Effort to Create Safe Injection Sites Advances [OPINION]
The Senate Ways and Means Committee has given its approval to legislation that would establish a harm reduction or safe injection site pilot program somewhere in Massachusetts. The program would be administered by the Department of Public Health.
The provision is a part of the Senate's version of an opioid bill, similar in many ways to a bill passed unanimously by the House last week. The House version, however, does not provide for the safe injection site pilot program.
Advocates have argued that safe injection sites would result in fewer overdose deaths and a reduction in the sharing of needles which can lead to the spread of disease. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Governor Charlie Baker, and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell have expressed reservations about a harm reduction program, and Mitchell says he would not welcome a site to New Bedford.
The concept has been endorsed by the Massachusetts Medical Society.
With end of session deadlines looming, it's not clear when or if the Senate will take up the legislation this session.
The State House News Service says both versions of the opioid legislation call for medically assisted treatment in prisons though each bill contains different provisions. It says both bills "would shift pharmacies over to electronic prescriptions, establish a standing order to make overdose-reversing medication available to well-meaning members of the public, and allow patients to fill part of a prescription and then go back to get the rest."
While the opioid bills appear to contain some good elements, a safe injection site pilot program is not one of them. Opponents fear such a site would attract users and lead to an increase in crime, drug use and panhandling while not doing much to discourage dangerous and illegal drug abuse. Mayor Mitchell is right to oppose locating a safe injection site in New Bedford.
Lawmakers should pass the opioid bill, but remove the provision calling for a safe injection site pilot program.
Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.