Giving addicts a place where they could shoot up under medical supervision would save lives and clean up neighborhoods, several doctors - and one heroin addict - told several Boston city councilors at a hearing today.
But a potential "supervised injection facility" would face a tough battle on the council: Councilors Michael Flaherty (at large), Tim McCarthy (Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale) and Frank Baker (Dorchester) said they heard nothing at a hearing today to convince them the idea is anything other than what Flaherty called "absolutely asinine."
Councilor Tito Jackson (Roxbury), flat out said he doesn't trust the state because of the way it approved "methadone clinic after methadone clinic" in one small part of Boston and said the blood of at least some dead addicts is on the hands of the city officials who shut Long Island, so he's not much inclined to trust any proposal that doesn't involve treatment.
"Nothing you've said today makes me go 'Oh jeez, I'm going to change my mind,' " McCarthy said.
Councilors said they're tired of Boston, in particular Methadone Mile corridor along Melnea Cass Boulevard and Mass. Ave. being a dumping ground for out-of-town addicts, and said maybe it's time for them to join the battle. When the president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, who testified in support of pilot supervised injection site somewhere in the state, acknowledged he lived in Newton, Flaherty said he would gladly accompany him to visit with the mayor of Newton and the Newton City Council to lobby to put one of the facilities in that city.
Boston Medical Center currently has a room where addicts who have shot up in the street can go to be watched.
Setting up a room where addicts could bring their drugs in and shoot up under medical supervision would require a change in state, and possibly federal, law. But with six people a day in Massachusetts now dying from opioid overdoses, traditional treatment programs are no longer enough, Medical Society President Dr. Hank Dorkin told the council. The society voted last year to promote the pilot testing of the supervised-injection idea in Massachusetts, although it did not recommend a specific site.
Dorkin and Dr. Gabriel Wishik, a doctor at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, argued that with heroin increasingly being replaced on the street by the far stronger fentanyl, traditional treatment programs are often too late to save lives.
"People are dying before they can get to medical care," Wishik, who lives in the South End, said.
Dorkin said that a facility in Vancouver has led to a decrease in overdose death, an increase in the number of addicts seeking treatment and a significant decrease in the number of needles and related trash on city streets. Doctors and nurses in the center do not supply drugs, but they stand ready to intervene medically should an addict overdose.
Aubri Esters, who has used opioids for 12 years now, said she is tired of seeing "blue and purple faces gasping for breath in alleyways and bedrooms." She said she ODed herself a week ago, and "got lucky that I survived" after disregarding her own personal method of repeatedly texting a friend who could come help her if the text messages stopped because she didn't want to bother her friends.
"Personal morals don't belong in public health policy," she said, adding that Methadone Mile "is already an injection facility, it's just not supervised."
But councilors said a shoot-up center would promote drug use and scare off nearby residents and businesses, that they'd rather spend time figuring out ways to increase the amount of money for treatment programs and that they figured the state would try to site the place in Methadone Mile.
McCarthy said he's spent time watching documentaries about the Vancouver neighborhood in question and said it's a hellhole, where the street over from the center is called "Bloody Alley," and said there's no way he'd want one across the street from his house.
Plus, he asked, "Why does Boston always have to shoulder the burden for the entire state?"
Flaherty prefaced his remarks by saying he has probably done more than any other councilor to help addicts and that he doubted any member has lost more family members and friends to addiction than he has. And then he called the idea of an injection site "absolutely asinine."
Flaherty said he would rather be discussing ways to guarantee treatment on demand - and court-ordered treatment - for addicts. And Flaherty, who drafted a change in the city zoning code to keep marijuana facilities far apart from each other, said he now thinks he will draft an amendment to the zoning code to outright bar any supervised injection facilities.
Flaherty, a one-time assistant district attorney, questioned the "legal and ethical issues" of having licensed medical professionals oversee an illegal act.
Mass. Medical Society SIF fact sheet.
Safe drug sites no Recovery Road.