In the wake of the Massachusetts Medical Association passing a resolution urging the Commonwealth to open two medically supervised injection facilities, commonly referred to as safe injection sites, Councilors Annissa Essaibi-George and Frank Baker filed a hearing order Wednesday, June 7, to examine the impacts of such a site in the city of Boston.
A safe injection site is a place where intravenous drug users can inject drugs with medical supervision to reduce chances of overdose and illness from improper injection.
“Boston needs to be front and center in the conversation about safe injection sites. Research shows that there are definitely some positive outcomes for facilities like this, especially in reducing overdose deaths. That being said, the centralization of services in Boston’s neighborhoods has had serious impacts on our city and we need to hear from all sides,” said Councilor Essaibi-George, the Chair of the Council’s committee on Homelessness, Mental Health and Recovery.
“As a city, we should be examining all measures to help those in our community struggling with opioid addiction. Holding this hearing will give us the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about safe injection sites and any potential impact to our city,” said Councilor Frank Baker, the co-sponsor of this hearing order.
That being said, both councilors appeared at the South End Forum on Tuesday night, June 6, to discuss the ideas behind their orders.
Essaibi George said she is adamantly against safe injection sites right now, but is willing to hear more about it. However, she said she filed the order with Baker to get Boston at the table. Many discussions at the State House, she said, were happening without the benefit of Boston residents being represented.
Both councilors stressed they are for locating any such facility outside of the South End.
“We all agree the South End is all done (when it comes to more services),” she said. “We’ve maxed out…Part of my frustration is so many people at the State House are talking about this and they don’t live in Boston…We need to look to other communities to do more of this work…It sounds crass, but when 50 percent of the folks coming to our shelters aren’t coming from Boston, it means these surrounding communities aren’t stepping up to provide access to services.”
There are no safe injection sites currently in the United States, although several U.S. cities are looking at opening them as part of a harm reduction strategy. A study cited by the Massachusetts Medical Society tracked a 38% reduction in overdose deaths as a result of a safe injection site in Vancouver. Currently in Massachusetts, on average six people a day die of accidental overdose, making it the number one cause of accidental death in the Commonwealth.
Recently through the Fiscal Year 2018 budget process Councilor Essaibi-George has advocated for an expansion of the Mobile Sharps Team, a two person team that collects improperly discarded needles. At a hearing hosted by Councilor Essaibi-George on safe disposal of sharps testimony was given that the Mobile Sharps team has collected approximately 20,000 needles since March 2015.
A date for the hearing is expected by the end of this week.