Debate Continues on Safe Injection Facilities

Safe injection facilities (SIFs) – a location where people can inject illicit drugs under the supervision of trained staff – are on two distinct paths in the state.

On one path, the SIF concept is gaining the support of some legislators and healthcare professionals who see the benefit of providing a safe, clean place for those with substance use disorder to inject the drugs they’re addicted to – and avoid overdose, crime, and infection by doing so. Last week the legislatively mandated Harm Reduction Commission, created to explore strategies to address the opioid crisis, voted to support the creation of one or more SIF pilots. However, the commission also specified that any pilot SIF should have local approval and “rigorous evaluation" of outcomes and effects on surrounding communities. 

On the other, diametrically opposed path is U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, who wrote an op-ed last month in the Boston Globe saying SIFs are illegal and he’ll prosecute to stop them in Massachusetts. The Harm Reduction Commission's report last week noted the federal position on SIFs; it states: "An additional challenge is the federal government’s strongly stated current stance against supervised consumption sites. Action on the federal level is needed to shift policy in regards to the federal prohibitions on supervised consumption sites." Governor Baker weighed in last week saying that he sees no reason to pursue SIFs if it’s clear the federal government won’t allow them. Throughout his entire tenure as governor, Baker has been a staunch proponent of other opioid-fighting strategies, and his efforts in the area have received national recognition.

Now, observers are wondering how and if the two paths will merge. Some legislators have advocated for the passage of state law to support the implementation of SIF pilots. Others are keeping an eye on a court case in Pennsylvania in which SIF proponents say the federal law Lelling cited is drafted in such a way that SIFs may actually be allowed in that jurisdiction. The only certainty is that Massachusetts has not heard the last about SIFs.