This week the Baltimore Beat published a story, “The solution to Baltimore’s overdose crisis—safe consumption sites,” that lays out much of the research and advocacy promoting the establishment of Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS), also called Safe Consumption Spaces or Safe Injection Facilities, in Maryland. The latest development cited in the story is the release of a new Abell Foundation report, “The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts: Overdose Prevention Sites, Barcelona, Baltimore, and the need for a comprehensive approach to the overdose crisis,” by Natanya Rabinowitz, executive director of OSI-Baltimore grantee, Charm City Care Connection.
OSI-Baltimore has been promoting the benefits of bringing an OPS to Baltimore for several years. In the fall of 2015, OSI hosted a Harm Reduction Conference at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, sharing background research and understanding of best practices that was the foundation for Del. Daniel Morhaim’s proposed legislation legalizing OPSs in the state legislature in 2016 and 2017. In March of 2017, Scott Nolen, director of OSI-Baltimore’s Addiction and Health Equity program, published an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun urging Governor Hogan to back up his declaration of a “State of Emergency” over the opioid crisis with policies befitting an emergency:
“In order to address Maryland’s opioid emergency, unconventional but viable options such as safe consumption spaces must be considered — particularly when we have impressive data from 10 countries that currently operate nearly 100 safe consumption spaces.”
Over the last four years, OSI has supported the work of researchers like Rabinowitz and Johns Hopkins University professor Dr. Susan Sherman, hosted events like our 2017 talk on “Safe Injection Facilities as a Public Health Strategy,” 2017 Talking About Race event on “Harm Reduction and Communities of Color,” Scott Nolen’s talk at Light City in 2017, and our pop-up Safe Injection Facility at Light City in 2018, and funded the work of advocates including the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, Bmore POWER, and Charm City Care Connection, who co-hosted a recent event to promote the introduction of SPSs in Maryland that garnered the support of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and City Council President Brandon Scott.
In September, Nolen published another op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, “The ‘seatbelt’ approach to the opioid crisis,” which compared OPSs and other harm reduction approaches to seatbelts – an approach that acknowledges that people are going to continue to take risks and creates ways to mitigate the potential harm. He cited the example of Vancouver’s Insite (pictured), the first OPS in North America. “Since 2003, it has overseen over 3.6 million injections without a single death,” he wrote. “Overdoses in nearby neighborhoods have declined.”
As the Beat story notes, bills legalizing OPSs in Maryland have failed in the state legislature in recent years, but another one is expected this year, and a recent court ruling could bolster the case for the bill. Last month, a Federal court ruled that a proposed OPS in Philadelphia would not violate Federal law.