Above: Interior of Insite, Vancouver
This week, an amended version of Senate Bill 288 was approved by the Maryland Senate Finance Committee, and is expected to go to the Senate floor for a vote within the next week. Introduced by Senator Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County), the bill will prevent overdose deaths in Maryland by allowing state and local health departments to authorize safe consumption services, also called Safe Injection Facilities (SIFs), where drug users can safely use drugs in the presence of medical professionals and access treatment. The amended version authorizes the Maryland State Department of Health in conjunction with the local health authority to approve two pilot programs (1 rural and 1 urban).
Opioid-related deaths in Maryland more than doubled between 2014 and 2016, reaching an all-time high of 1,856. As of September 2017, opioid-related overdoses topped 1500, suggesting that Maryland is on pace to break the previous year’s record for the 6th consecutive year.
Proponents of this legislation, such as OSI grantee the BRIDGES Coalition, and Drug Policy Alliance – two organizations that spearheaded this initiative – believe this is an enormous step forward towards serving the most marginalized populations, increasing access points to treatment, reducing infection and disease, and most importantly saving lives.
OSF’s Public Health Program has supported the creation of such spaces in other countries which has resulted in hundreds of lives saved and thousands of referrals to addiction counseling and other support services. As we noted on our website, Philadelphia recently took a significant step toward opening a SIF, Last weekend, the New York Times ran a story about New York officials seeking to establish a SIF and the Washington Post wrote about the SIF in Vancouver and attempts to replicate it in the US.
OSI-Baltimore has been working to explore the possibility of opening a SIF in Baltimore, co-releasing a report on the subject and hosting educational events. On February 21, OSI grantee, Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition will join Nurses for Justice Baltimore to present Safer Consumption Spaces, a panel discussion at Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse.