The Burlington City Council approved a nonbinding resolution this week calling for further study into establishing safe injection sites in the city.
A resolution offered at this week’s city council meeting asked officials to support the idea of hosting an Overdose Prevention Site, otherwise known as a safe injection site, as one tool to address the opioid crisis.
Sponsor Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul noted that challenging social problems require leaders to think beyond what is comfortable and conventional when seeking solutions. “Overdose Prevention Sites provide a safe place for users to consume drugs and they have been shown not to lead to an increase in crime in the area in which the site is located. It’s time for our community to begin to explore hosting such a site. It is quite simply a first step.”
In March 2017, Chittenden County State’s attorney Sarah George asked that a committee of health and law enforcement professionals look at the possibility of setting up a safe injection site for heroin and other opioid users. She told councilors at the time she was very skeptical. “And a year later I am frankly appalled that our country has not started implementing these everywhere that we can. This is a very easy resolution for me to support. I think we do a lot of talking about wanting to be a part of the solution and we’re not doing a lot of action. I would just let you all know that as of the first week of July we had 75 Vermonters who have died from fatal overdoses. I know of 2 more that died last week in Chittenden County. And so if that continues we are going to beat every other year before us. So it’s time that we start to actually do something about it.”
The Howard Center provides substance abuse counseling and services. CEO Bob Bick thanked councilors for considering the resolution. “What we’re talking about here really is adding tools to the tool box to do everything we possibly can to keep people alive long enough for them to get into treatment.”
North District Independent Dave Hartnett was one of three councilors to oppose the resolution. “If you really truly want to make a difference then you really got to put all your focus on prevention.”
Ward 1 Independent Sharon Bushor rebuked Hartnett. “If you just focus on prevention what about all the people that are addicted right now? What happens to them? This is about dealing with those individuals who have found themselves in a crisis state, often by getting prescribed medications. Prevention yes, but we have all those people that are already in that situation and we have to do something for them. That’s what this is about. And that’s why we need to explore this as an option.”
In November 2016, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Police Chief Brandon Del Pozo announced the formation of CommunityStat to target the opioid crisis. The resolution calls on the group to explore how to implement safe injection sites and address federal legal challenges.