Joseph A. Curtatone
Mayor of Somerville
If you traveled by Somerville City Hall earlier this month, you likely saw the 77 small purple flags we put out to mark Overdose Awareness Day. The flags represent the 77 Somerville residents lost to overdose deaths since 2014. One lone large flag marks the many more lost before them. All are a painful reminder of how the opioid epidemic has ravaged both Somerville and communities across the country.
As a city, it’s our duty to address public health issues, including addiction, and we try to come at it from every possible angle. We work hard on prevention efforts and teaching our young people about the dangers of opioids. We respond to calls for help when someone has overdosed, and when they are ready we connect them with resources for treatment. We also look for new ways to help. That’s why we’re exploring opening a supervised consumption site in Somerville.
Supervised consumption sites are a harm prevention tool. In an ideal world, pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t have misled doctors and patients, creating a public health crisis, and we wouldn’t need to look to harm reduction strategies to protect those struggling with addiction. But, sadly, that’s not the case and doing nothing only maintains a tragic status quo.
There are many misconceptions about supervised consumption sites, but here are the facts: These facilities do not provide drugs or help administer them. Along with a safe environment for those who would use elsewhere, most provide health services like sterile needles and first aid. Trained staff is ready to administer life-saving Narcan, which can reverse an opioid overdose, and to call for emergency help. Clients also get referrals to recovery and other social services. At least 100 such sites have opened worldwide, and the data shows that they reduce fatal overdoses and increase people seeking treatment.
Massachusetts residents deserve access to this critical resource. But right now, any community looking to open a supervised consumption site would need special legislation. It’s time the state allowed cities and towns to make that decision on their own. We know that supervised consumption sites can save lives, and saving lives must be our priority.
Walpole Police Chief; member of Massachusetts Cannabis Advisory Board; Co-chair of Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Associaton’s Substance Use Committee
The idea of ‘safe’ injection sites is absurd.
Using the term ‘safe’ when referring to injection sites that would permit the use of illicit, harmful narcotics, responsible for killing thousands of people in our communities is inconceivable. Injection sites enable and encourage the sustained use of these substances and convey a message to those suffering from substance use disorders that such illicit and dangerous drug use is acceptable.
It is not sound drug policy to gamble with people’s lives, facilitating and exploiting addiction, and potentially contributing to their demise.
Many people suffering from substance use disorders are dual diagnosed with mental illness, thereby placing further risk and liability on the individual user, attending health care personnel, and innocent bystanders.
The location of injection sites can also negatively affect the quality of life for a neighborhood, as these facilities might entice criminal activity, create disorder, and generate many public health concerns. I believe these injection sites would breed additional drug use and overdoses in these neighborhoods, and attract drug dealing, ancillary crime, and open disposal of syringes.
While we can link the opioid epidemic to years of over-prescribing pain medications, ‘pill mill’ clinics, and the diversion of prescribed drugs to illicit use, harm reduction methods such as injection sites offer no ‘safe’ alternative solution to this problem.
Massachusetts has witnessed many people severely suffering from substance use disorders, families struggling to reduce the stigma and seek help for their loved ones. We have watched the fabric of our communities torn apart by this terrible scourge.
The answer to the problem is not encouraging more drug use, but instead following the proven strategies Massachusetts has already begun to pursue. Those include education, prevention, safe prescribing practices, our prescription monitoring program, and addiction treatment and recovery services - including in correctional facilities. Others include prescription drug disposal programs, increased access to the overdose-reversal drug, Narcan, and maintaining resources for targeted enforcement efforts against drug trafficking organizations.
Allowing people suffering from the disease of addiction to use drugs indiscriminately is not the answer to the epidemic, and illegal injection sites should never see the light of day in the Commonwealth.
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As told to Globe Correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.