Boston, MA– Last week, we learned that a state commission is recommending the development of one or more trial supervised injection sites where drug users can get clean needles and medical monitoring to prevent overdose deaths in Massachusetts. The Harm Reduction Commission released their full report on Friday with their findings on the positive impact that such facilities have had in Canada, reducing overdose-related deaths and limiting diseases spread by needle sharing.
However, the proposal may be unlikely to gain any traction in the near future, as 7 News Boston reported that Governor Charlie Baker has repeatedly expressed his concerns regarding the legality of such an operation. While he said that he would review the commission's report, Baker emphasized to reporters that such a proposal is currently illegal under federal law. He said he would rather focus on legal avenues in the state to treat addiction and prevent drug use and overdose deaths.
Governor Baker backed up his position by reiterating U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s views on supervised injection sites. Lelling warned in the past that even if Massachusetts’ law is amended to permit such sites, that wouldn't change the fact that they are illegal federally. Any drug user or employee at such a facility could be charged under federal law. Baker told reporters: “The U.S. attorney has made it absolutely crystal clear that he will prosecute anyone who tries to open up a safe injection site in Massachusetts. Chasing something that’s not legal under federal law just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Baker touted the state's existing efforts to reduce the number drug-related deaths in Massachusetts. Among these improvements are increasing access to Naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug, and the creation of dozens of needle exchange programs throughout the state.
Governor Baker and others are wary of injection sites, also known as overdose prevention centers, as a deterrent for drug use. By providing individual drug users with a safe location to shoot up with unknown drugs obtained elsewhere, many argue that it will only encourage drug use. On the other hand, the first step to treating addiction is keeping people alive.
Other states are also considering supervised injection sites as a harm reduction strategy for drug users, but these proposals face opposition from a number of government officials. In Philadelphia, the top federal prosecutor has filed a lawsuit to prevent the proposed opening of a supervised injection site by a nonprofit in the city.