Volume 36, Issue 66   March 7, 2018 Record Number: 37756511  Edition: ALL Section: News Page: 21

Bay State weighs injection sites in opioid OD battle    Author: MARIE SZANISZLO

When Mary Ann Prince first heard of supervised injection sites, where intravenous drug users can inject — under medical supervision — she was skeptical at best.

“I thought it just continues this (addiction) for the kid,” the Shirley woman said.

It took just one thing to change her mind: On May 2, 2014, her son, Travis, a National Guard Army reservist who became addicted to prescription painkillers after a back injury and then turned to heroin, died of an overdose.

He was 25 and left behind a wife and 9-month-old son.

“Now, there’s not a question in my mind that if my son had had one of these places to go to,” she said yesterday, “he would still be alive.”

Senate bill 1081 would allow the state Department of Public Health to approve such programs in Massachusetts, provided that local boards of health give their approval.

Both the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association support the creation of a pilot supervised injection facility, or SIF, overseen by a state-led task force.

No drugs will be supplied to users.

But several hurdles remain, despite a February DPH report that showed that 1,977 people — more than five a day — died of a confirmed or suspected opioid overdose last year in the state.

“We need an organization to step forward and say they are ready, if so authorized, to operate a supervised injection facility, and a municipality that will accept them in that operation,” Sen. William Brownsberger, the bill’s sponsor, said yesterday at a State House panel discussion on SIFs.

Last month, Gov. Charlie Baker said he was a “hard sell” on the idea, claiming it was unknown whether SIFs would lead addicts into treatment.

And Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has said he has “serious concerns” about how the facilities would operate.

But Brandon Marshall, a Brown University epidemiology professor who has studied the impacts of the Vancouver SIF Insite, said that frequent visitors are almost twice as likely to get treatment.

“These facilities,” he said, “clearly save lives.”

Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan called on the state to “put our money where our mouth is” in battling opioid addiction, even though supervised injection sites are illegal federally.