BOSTON (SHNS) – Poll results released Thursday by supporters of legislation to provide sanctioned spaces for people with substance use addiction to use drugs under supervision without the threat of criminal punishment found that more than two-thirds of Bay State voters are in favor of allowing municipalities to establish the so-called overdose prevention centers.
Massachusetts for Overdose Prevention Centers said that 70 percent of voters surveyed said they would support legislation to allow cities and towns to establish overdose prevention centers, also known as supervised consumption or safe injection sites.
The facilities are illegal under federal law but are favored by some legislators and are being studied by the Gov. Maura Healey’s administration. At such facilities, individuals would be able to use pre-acquired drugs free of legal consequences under the supervision of medical professionals who could intervene to prevent an overdose from turning fatal.
The idea drew majority support among Democrats (85 percent), unaffiliated voters (63 percent), and Republicans (53 percent), the organization said.
“As someone who works every day with people in recovery and their families, it’s heartening that Massachusetts voters recognize overdose prevention centers as an essential tool toward recovery,” Maryanne Frangules, executive director of Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery, said.
The survey was conducted by Beacon Research and sponsored by the ACLU of Massachusetts. It involved online interviews with more than 600 registered Massachusetts voters between Sept. 14 and Sept. 20.
Legislation (H 1981 / S 1242) that would launch a 10-year pilot program involving overdose prevention centers is up for a hearing Monday before the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery.
Healey, who served two terms as state attorney general, has previously signaled that she is open to municipalities deciding for themselves whether to open authorized drug use sites. A spokeswoman for Healey said this summer that the governor “supports allowing communities to decide what’s best for their residents, including the option of setting up safe consumption sites, given the urgent need to help connect people with treatment services, address stigma and save lives.”
There were 2,357 confirmed and estimated fatal opioid-related overdoses in Massachusetts in 2022, a record high, according to the most recent data from the Department of Public Health. The fatality rate of 33.5 overdose deaths per 100,000 people reflected a 2.5 percent increase over 2021 and a 9.1 percent increase from 2016, the pre-pandemic peak.
Supervised drug use sites are illegal federally, though two have operated for about two years in New York City without drawing a public response from federal officials. The New York Times reported that staff at the facilities reversed two overdoses on the first day they were open.
When the idea of safe injection sites was previously debated on Beacon Hill, it was met with pushback from federal law enforcement officials. In 2018, the Massachusetts Senate considered an opioid addiction prevention bill that would have authorized a pilot program of supervised sites for illegal drug use. The Senate ultimately adopted an amendment to study the idea instead.
“Since the Massachusetts Medical Society leveraged extensive research and data to inform its decision to advocate for the establishment of an overdose prevention center in the Commonwealth in 2017, subsequent evidence has only fortified our position that such facilities save lives and offer pathways to medically appropriate treatment and rehabilitative services for those living with substance use disorder, a chronic disease,” Dr. Barbara Spivak, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said. “As disparities and overdoses caused by synthetic drugs like fentanyl continue to rise and ravage families and communities, it is clear the majority of residents of the Commonwealth agree with physicians in their belief that the time is now to deploy a proven harm reduction tool that can save the lives of our patients.”
The Healey administration said in June that DPH has been instructed to craft a “comprehensive plan” to prevent overdoses, including an analysis of the “feasibility” of overdose prevention sites.
“We are hoping to move quickly on this,” DPH Commissioner Robbie Goldstein said in June. “As you heard me say, we are committed to having a report ready by the end of the year so that we can make sure that we’re presenting the evidence-based plan to the governor and to others across state government.”
In 2019, a state commission tasked with studying ways to reduce the harm of substance use disorder concluded that Massachusetts should pilot “one or more” safe drug consumption sites, even as its members — including then-Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders — cautioned that doing so would carry legal risk.