Governor Peter Shumlin has said his state is at the center of “a full-blown heroin crisis” that is plaguing the whole country.
Heroin use in Vermont has risen dramatically in the past 12 years.
This dramatic increase in opiate-related deaths in 2016 has compelled local and state officials to consider setting up “safe injection sites” where addicts can use intravenous drugs under supervision.
Advocates say the safe injection sites can reduce harm and help deal with addiction.
State’s Attorney Sarah George admitted that the prospect sounds scary but that she has a duty to look at all options.
“Clearly it’s something that sounds scary and controversial, and I can certainly appreciate that,” George said. “Sometimes those scarier thoughts or scarier programs are the ones that make the most difference.”
A task force of community leaders, comprised of public safety, treatment, and health officials, is looking into how such a program would work, reported the Burlington Free Press.
George said she and her colleagues have been looking for new and innovative ways to attack the heroin crisis gripping Vermont but nothing has really worked.
“It has been very clear to me as a prosecutor, in general, the opioid crisis has just gotten worse and worse and regardless of all these great efforts we’re making and programs we’re implementing; it just doesn’t seem to be making a dent,” George said.
Such sites have been successful in other places.
There are about 100 safe or supervised injection sites around the world. The only one in North America is in Vancouver, Canada although more have been approved for Seattle, Washington, and Montreal, Quebec.
The sites allow addicts to use intravenous drugs while being supervised by nurses, who help prevent overdose deaths.
Burlington Police Deputy Chief Shawn Burke, a member of the task force, said the police department is also interested in studying this model, although it has not taken an official stand on whether it would support a safe injection facility.
Other law enforcement voices, like Chief Brandon del Pozo, said they should also ensure treatment-on-demand before establishing a safe injection site.
“I would have a hard time accepting this if we were not to at least offer treatment without delay to whoever wants it as a precondition to a safe injection site,” del Pozo said.
State Rep. Selene Colburn said that research has shown that injection sites help reduce overdoses, increase referrals and use of treatment services, which ultimately results in cutting back on public drug use and needle discards.
“And they do all of that without creating an uptick in crime in neighborhoods that host them,” Colburn said. “They are, I think, a really important potential tool here for us in Vermont.”
State Attorney George said that safe injection sites could potentially be a second chance for people who want to be productive members of the community.
“These individuals do not want to be committing crimes, they don’t want to be sitting in jail, they don’t want to be getting felony convictions and they certainly don’t want to end up another fatal overdose statistic,” George said.