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Callie's Commentary I July 30, 2018

On Massachusetts' Knee-Jerk Reaction To Safe Injection Sites

Opioid Epidemic Philadelphia
Discarded syringes in an open-air heroin market that has thrived for decades, slated for cleanup along train tracks a few miles outside the heart of Philadelphia. Philadelphia wants to become the first U.S. city to allow supervised drug injection sites as a way to combat the opioid epidemic, city officials announced Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, saying they would seek outside operators to establish one or more safe injection sites.
Matt Rourke/AP
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Callie's Commentary I July 30, 2018

I’m lucky. Drugs have not devastated my immediate friends and family members. Those who have succumbed to addiction have been incapacitated by alcohol, not needle drugs. And I’ve never been interested or tempted to double up on prescription pills or smoke marijuana. I’m sharing this so you’ll understand that my deep concern about the epidemic of opioid abuse is not personal. But we, none of us, can afford to ignore or dismiss this devastating scourge, even if it does not hit close to home.

Evidence from any number of studies confirm that once hooked, opiate abusers struggle and usually relapse a few times before they can get sober. Making it harder to kick the habit — opiates laced with more deadly and crave-producing substances like fentanyl. What is clear is that this disease has not been readily responsive to traditional approaches of counseling and follow up. It’s why Seattle turned to a pilot program, originally introduced in the U.K., where police officers bring non violent drug offenders not to jail but to treatment centers. Since 2015 Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion or LEAD has helped reduce recidivism among participants by 22 percent. Here at home Former Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello pioneered a similar program of rehabilitation instead of arrest for heroin addicts. Both of these approaches were criticized by some as coddling criminals, and by others as unsustainable. But for the people unable to help themselves, these efforts have been a literal lifeline. And so called safe injection sites, such as the one pulled from a recent Senate bill, might have been another one. But the proposal to allow addicts to inject drugs under medical supervision scared off political support, including Governor Charlie Baker. Belmont Senator Will Brownsberger was emphatic in his support, saying he wanted people to “have the opportunity to use drugs in a safe environment.”

I know the idea of a "safe injection" seems counter-intuitive. But not too long ago so did the concept of offering clean needles to addicts. And the safe injection sites in 9 countries like Canada, Spain, and Australia have proven effective in harm reduction. Like most people,I’ve been shocked by the pictures of the overdosed parents passed out in the car with the children in the backseat. I’ve cried about the orphaned kids now being raised by the state, or their grandparents if they’re fortunate. And I’ve been heartsick about the victims of robberies and killings at the hands of the desperately addicted.

I’m disappointed that Massachusetts gave into knee-jerk skittishness and gave up a chance to lead the nation with another pathway to beating opiate addiction.

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