Mass. Legislative Committee Backs Supervised Drug Use Pilot Bill

A legislative committee endorsed a proposal to establish at least two locations in Massachusetts for supervised drug consumption, giving some momentum to a controversial idea that supporters say will lower the death toll of the opioid epidemic.

The Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery favorably reported a bill Friday instructing the Department of Mental Health to create a 10-year pilot program for at least two supervised consumption sites, sometimes referred to as safe injection facilities, where individuals could use illegal drugs under the watch of professionals who could intervene in overdose cases.

"Today the message we send to those who are faced with the disease of addiction is that we see you, we value you, and we want you to live," committee co-chair Rep. Marjorie Decker said in a press release alongside her fellow co-chair, Sen. Julian Cyr. "Supervised consumption sites offer one more intervention to save lives."

Cyr described the sites outlined in the bill as "another tool to save lives as the opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities across our commonwealth."

Under the committee's bill, which does not yet have a bill number and whose full text was not immediately available, the facilities would offer hygienic space, sterile injection supplies, monitoring by health care professionals or trained individuals, and referrals to treatment and recovery, according to Decker and Cyr's press release.

Any local board of health would need to agree to the pilot program before a location could open in its community.

Jim Stewart, a steering committee member for the advocacy group Safe Injections for Massachusetts Now, lauded the bill.

"They save lives," he said. "They reduce the spread of infectious disease and they reduce the amount of crime and drug-related detritus in the neighborhoods that host them so it’s just a win for everybody."

Debate around the idea has been intense on Beacon Hill for years. The Senate included authorization for a pilot program in its version of a 2018 opioid bill, but the language was dropped during negotiations with the House.

Gov. Charlie Baker opposes the practice, pointing to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling's repeated public comments that the sites would violate federal law and draw enforcement from his office. Last year, a panel chaired by Baker's Health and Human Services Secretary, Marylou Sudders, concluded that safe consumption sites are a viable way to reduce harm from opioid addiction.

It is not clear if House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka, who will decide if the committee's bill advances toward a full vote in either chamber, support the proposal.


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