Pubdate: Fri, 09 Feb 2018
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2018 Globe Newspaper Company


Drug treatment can't help dead people.

That's why San Francisco is scheduled to open two safe injection sites
later this year, where drug users will be allowed to shoot up under
medical supervision. If an addict overdoses, trained staff will be
available to revive them with an overdose antidote like naloxone,
commonly known as Narcan. Staffers can also recommend treatment
options to those interested.

In an effort to stem fatal overdoses, safe injection sites are now
under discussion in such cities as Philadelphia, Seattle, and Ithaca,

There are no similar discussions in Boston, however, or anywhere else
in Massachusetts, where Governor Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and
Mayor Domenic Sarno of Springfield have all expressed either doubt or
outright opposition.

Despite Governor Charlie Baker's commitment to fighting the opioid
crisis, he remains unconvinced that this state would be well served by
safe injection sites which, he says, are not "a path to treatment."
During a State House hearing last month on the epidemic, he also said
he was "kind of a hard sell" on the idea that such sites could curb
fatal overdoses.

Since becoming governor, Baker has stressed the need for treatment for
addicts. During his State of the Commonwealth address, he touted the
addition of 1,110 treatment beds, a 60 percent increase in state
spending on addiction services, improvements to the prescription
monitoring program, and greater access to Narcan. He also touted a 10
percent drop in opioid deaths during the first nine months of 2017,
compared to the same period in the previous year.

Yet according to Boston EMS, overdose deaths rose 54 percent in
Boston. That's largely due to the prevalence of fentanyl, a synthetic
drug about fifty times more powerful than heroin.

Statistics from other cities with safe injection sites hint that such
locations can save lives. In Sydney, Australia, about 5,900 people
have overdosed in medically monitored sites since 2001 - and none have
died. Safe injection sites are a measure this page has urged before in
Massachusetts, and continues to endorse.

Without question, there are already illegal safe injection sites
operating behind the backs of law enforcement nationwide. But formally
recognized and publicized sites would reach more people, and creative
jurisdictions are eyeing ways to overcome legal obstacles. In San
Francisco, public health officials say its sites will be privately
funded, allowing the city to avoid any liability. According to the
Justice Department, it's against the law to "manage and maintain sites
on which such drugs are used and distributed." But safe injections
sites do not distribute illegal drugs.

Baker has already shown his willingness to push provocative ideas,
such as a controversial 72-hour involuntary hold for drug users posing
a danger to themselves or others. A bill with that emergency treatment
provision, one the ACLU called "medically dangerous," was already
rejected by lawmakers in 2016.

This extraordinary epidemic demands an extraordinary response, and
safe injection sites are a measure both Baker and the Legislature
should embrace. A bill sponsored by state Senator William Brownsberger
that would let state officials permit injection sites deserves support.

The greatest struggle with drug addicts isn't getting them into
treatment. It's keeping them alive long enough to get them help. Being
alive, after all, is itself a path to treatment. Despite the
governor's objections, safe injection sites belong in the state's
toolbox amid a raging opioid crisis that still claims far too many
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt