Supervised Injection Sites Gain Favor Worldwide
If drug users could inject themselves under medical supervision and without the threat of getting arrested, it could save lives. But would the community support such a bold step, rife with moral and legal questions on both sides of the issue?
The Berkshire Eagle reports the county's top law enforcement official, District Attorney Andrea Harrington, says bringing supervised drug consumption services to Berkshire County is a conversation worth having because it's "an idea that maybe would work."
Earlier this year, Harrington and elected prosecutors from elsewhere in the United States visited Portugal to witness that country's progressive drug policies.
Portugal's medically supervised injection services — there, medical staff travel around in vans, providing sterile syringes and immediate care in the event of an overdose — have helped cut back the country's drug mortality rate to one of the lowest on record.
The strategy hasn't been implemented in the United States, where roughly 70,000 people die each year from opioid-related overdoses. But in pockets of the country, including Massachusetts, it's under study and consideration.
In March, a Massachusetts panel commissioned by the Legislature recommended a pilot program in supervised drug consumption. Lawmakers have yet to act on the controversial measure, and some have assailed inaction as a potential death sentence for some drug users.
Harrington acknowledged hurdles to clear in terms of building community support for the service in Berkshire County.
In Berkshire County, County Ambulance looks to launch an overdose follow-up program in the coming months, and Harrington said it's the kind of program that could one day expand to include supervised injection.
In the United States, a nonprofit in Philadelphia is closest to developing a program, yet its efforts attracted a lawsuit from the federal government, which argues that injection sites are illegal. In that case, Harrington joined 32 other elected prosecutors from around the country, including Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, in filing a brief last month in support of supervised consumption.
Public health officials in Philadelphia estimate that if one site opened in the city, it would save 76 lives from overdose, as well as prevent HIV diagnoses and dozens of new hepatitis C cases, a year, according to a court brief they filed. In addition, they predict that a site could save the city nearly $124,000 a year in emergency ambulance calls related to overdoses.
The Philadelphia nonprofit also faces opposition from civic associations and police groups in the region.
Harrington said she signed the brief because she believes the sites are legal under federal law. "And also that safe consumption sites enhance public safety."
In Berkshire County, Department of Public Health statistics show that 40 people died last year from an opioid-related overdose, and 210 overdose deaths occurred in the Berkshires from 2010 to 2018.
Think about it,