Today, Baltimore City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, chair of the Council’s Health Committee hosted an informational City Council hearing on Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) for the stated purpose of “inviting representatives from the Health Department, the Baltimore Police Department, the Fire Department, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, and the Law Department to provide information about overdose prevention sites and how they could be established in Baltimore City.”
Advocates from the BRIDGES Coalition for Overdose Prevention Sites, an OSI-Baltimore grantee, presented a range of data, including a recent study which showed that 65% of businesses surveyed support the establishments of OPSs. Johns Hopkins University researcher Dr. Susan Sherman, another OSI grantee, talked about the benefits of establishing OPSs, including tremendous cost savings to the city in emergency services, criminal justice services, and other areas.
Michael Collins of the State’s Attorney’s Office shared more information about the benefits of OPSs and said, “I’m glad to see us moving away from the war on drugs model.” Last year, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby signaled her support for the establishments of OPSs in Baltimore. Baltimore Police Department (BPD) Deputy Commissioner Michael Sullivan and Director of Government Affairs Michelle Wirzberger testified that the BPD is ready to “support” OPSs if they were to be implemented in Baltimore. “We are embracing the harm reduction approach,” Wirzberger said, adding that the Consent Decree requires improved police training on the subject.
Rachel Moler, a program associate for OSI’s Addiction and Health Equity and Criminal and Juvenile Justice Programs, testified about the experiences of OPS operators in Canada and Europe, several of whom talked to Baltimore City and state legislators last year, where OSI brought them to the area to share their insights. Several of those testifying referenced the leadership of local harm reduction activist William Miller, Sr., who died in October.
Today’s hearing follows City Council President Brandon Scott’s call for such a hearing in January. In the 2020 General Assembly, the House of Delegates heard testimony on a bill, sponsored by Del. Shelly Hettleman, that would create a program to pilot Overdose Prevention Sites around the state of Maryland, but was not voted on during the COVID-shortened session.