Support for exploring the feasibility of operating supervised injection facilities (SIFs) in Massachusetts to help combat substance use disorder has been growing in recent years, but last week the top federal law enforcement official in the state – U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling – wrote a Boston Globe op-ed in which he essentially said, don’t even think about opening one.
A SIF is a facility where people can inject illicit drugs under the supervision of trained staff. The theory is that by providing a safe site, those using illegal drugs won’t transmit infections through dirty needles, are less likely to overdose, won’t commit crimes to support their addiction, and will be closer to people who can steer them towards recovery – among many other benefits.
A legislatively mandated commission is soon expected to release its report on SIFs. Most recently the mayors of Cambridge and Boston travelled to Canada to view how one of the few existing SIFs is working. Others in the health field have shied away from SIFs, instead stressing other interventions to help those with substance use disorder, from expanding the use of medication for addiction treatment in communities, to the certification and coverage of recovery coaches, and the potential use of test strips to gauge the presence of deadly fentanyl in injectable drugs.
Those other strategies may now gain prominence following Lelling’s op-ed last week in which he wrote, “These (SIF) sites are a terrible idea and, more important, they are illegal … Promoters of supervised injection sites need to understand that, short of legislative reform, any effort to open an injection site in Massachusetts will be met with federal enforcement.” In the recent past, Lelling indicated that despite federal marijuana prohibitions, his office would respect the state’s law that legalized specific quantities of marijuana, saying that his drug focus is on opioids, fentanyl, and international drug cartels. But, as the Globe op-ed showed, Lelling is drawing a line with SIFs, writing, “Heroin and fentanyl are not pot brownies.”