Vermont town considering overdose prevention sites
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – Burlington city councilors have voted to seek the opening of an overdose prevention site. Only one councilor, Mark Barlow, was against the resolution, citing legal concerns.
In June, Governor Scott vetoed a bill that would have authorized safe injection sites in the state. Safe injection sites serve as a place of safety for those who use drugs, while connecting them to other resources that can nudge them toward recovery
City councilors began considering opening an overdose prevention site in 2018. They waited, citing extreme legal issues, but Burlington City Councilman Joe MaGee said now is the time to act. .
The Department of Health says 215 people suffered fatal overdoses in 2021, a number that is expected to rise this year.
“The war on drugs has not worked. Arresting people, prosecuting them, putting them in jail does nothing to really help people,” Magee said.
The proposed overdose prevention site would be staffed with trained professionals to use naloxone or other means to reverse an overdose. The city works with the Howard Center, among other organizations.
“According to their life, there is no safe place for them to use, which puts them at risk,” said Catherine Simonson of the Howard Center. “Over time, people develop relationships and start to engage with people about other needs they have.”
With this resolution, the city will begin to look at funding and legal issues. MaGee says there is an ongoing dispute between the Philadelphia organization, Safehouse, and the United States regarding sites like these. This litigation has been ongoing since February 2019.
“We expect the Department of Justice to release a memo on this litigation soon which will hopefully pave the way for overdose prevention sites and harm reduction,” MaGee said.
Despite ongoing litigation, several New York organizations have opened overdose prevention sites, with no repercussions, which MaGee says they would consider doing. As for funding, advisers expect dollars to come from a recent opioid settlement.
“This problem isn’t going to go away by just throwing more money into the war on drugs and only preaching abstinence,” he explained. “We need to meet people where they are and an overdose prevention site is the way to do that”
It’s also important to note that Simonson of the Howard Center says research shows that overdose prevention sites don’t increase crime, but there’s no evidence that they will reduce it.
In addition to finding an overdose prevention site, this resolution calls on Mayor Miro Weinberger to proclaim August 31 as International Overdose Awareness Day and September as Recovery Month.
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