Thousands of Massachusetts Overdose Deaths Lead to Proposed Legislation to Create Centers Where People Take Drugs Safely 

Pills & drugs, healthcare photo. Free public domain CC0 image.

By Citlalli Florez

BOSTON, MASS – After an announcement that more than 2,300 people died from overdoses in Massachusetts in a year, the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health released a new study this week about the feasibility of overdose prevention centers, identifying the centers as a proven public health tool.

An overdose protection center is a legally authorized facility where individuals can safely consume their pre-obtained drugs, and the study noted these facilities are proven to prevent overdose deaths and increase access to treatment. Individuals may find counseling, medical help and recovery services easier, according to the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The Department of Public Health recommended legislative action to codify legal and professional liability protections for overdose prevention centers so they may become a common reality, noted the ACLU.

The study emphasized legislation and how it would provide an entity operating an overdose prevention clinic protection from criminal or civil enforcement. It would protect health care providers  and reduce exposure to federal enforcement. It would also allow state regulation of such facilities.

A bill filed by Representative Marjorie Decker, Dylan Fernandes, and Senator Julian Cyr is being considered by the Massachusetts legislature. If passed, it would give municipalities who seek new harm reduction tools  to establish overdose protection centers, said the ACLU.

A poll https://ma4opc.org/massachusetts-voters-overwhelmingly-support/ focused on overdose prevention centers found that 70 percent of Massachusetts voters support passing legislation similar to what the bill offers. Rhode Island and Minnesota have already passed legislation authorizing overdose prevention centers.

The American Medical Association recently recommended overdose protection centers as a way to help end the overdose epidemic, writes the ACLU, adding the state’s Dept. of Public Health also released data which shows about 1,718 confirmed and estimated opioid related overdose deaths which took place in the first nine months of 2023.

The study revealed between Oct.1, 2022 and Sept. 30, 2023 there have been an estimated 2,323 overdose deaths in Massachusetts. In 2022, there was a record of 2,359 opioid related overdose deaths within the state.

Statements by the Massachusetts for Overdose Prevention Centers Coalition were released in response to the study.

Dr. Barbara Spivak, the president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, stated that “the feasibility study further validates the efficacy of overdose prevention centers, which must be part of our comprehensive public health approach to reducing overdose deaths…as physicians, we recognize that addiction is a chronic disease and have seen the ravages of this epidemic and its effect on families, patients, and communities.”

Spivak continued, “We must approach this public health crisis with evidence-based measures, including the deployment of all harm-reduction tools at our disposal. In order to treat our patients and support their path to recovery, we must first keep them alive,” noting the Massachusetts Medical Society has been advocating for the establishment of overdose prevention centers since 2017.

Jimmy Kamel, Medical Director of Medication Assisted Treatment Program at Fenway Health commented, “Every overdose death is preventable. But stopping these needless fatalities requires using every effective strategy that is available to us.”

Kamel added, “Overdose prevention centers are a cost-effective, proven tool to prevent opioid deaths and bring people into care. This feasibility study shows the potential impact of overdose prevention centers in Massachusetts.

“When combined with other evidence-based harm reduction services, including programs tailored to high-risk groups such as LGBTQIA+  people and people of color, we can expect to see progress in the fight to end the opioid epidemic and save lives.”

Gary Carter, a parent of loss, said, “I understand some may feel OPCs are unconventional, but it is time to think outside the box. I am not aware of a single study indicating any negative impact of current OPC’s in operation to date. While policies can change, the loss of a life can never be reversed,”

Lynn Wencus, another parent of loss and a member of Team Sharing commented, “Massachusetts continues to lag in its efforts to address the opioid crisis and the devastation it has left behind. Six people die every day in this state from overdose.”

Wencus continued, “How many more lives must we lose before we realize that overdose deaths are preventable? Overdose prevention centers save lives. It is critical that the state acts now to pass legislation that allows OPCs. While there is life, there is hope.”

About The Author

Citlalli Florez is a 4th year undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently majoring in Legal Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Art Practice. She intends to attend law school in the future with the purpose of gaining skills to further serve her community.

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