Massachusetts for Overdose Prevention Centers calls for urgent legislative action
On the same day it announced that more than 2,300 overdose deaths occurred in Massachusetts over a recent one-year span, the state's Department of Public Health released a new feasibility study of overdose prevention centers (OPCs), unequivocally identifying them as a proven, evidence-based public health tool.
Importantly, the Department of Public Health recommends legislative action to codify legal and professional liability protections so that OPCs may become a reality in the Commonwealth. The study emphasizes that legislation would provide a much-needed guarantee to a municipal or private entity operating an OPC that it will not be subject to state criminal or civil enforcement. Legislation, the study notes, will also reduce exposure to federal enforcement, protect health care providers from professional disciplinary or licensure risk, and enable state regulation of facilities.
The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill filed by Representatives Marjorie Decker, Dylan Fernandes, and Senator Julian Cyr (H.1981, S.1242) that would give municipalities looking for new harm reduction tools the authority to establish overdose prevention centers. According to a recent Beacon Research poll released by Massachusetts for Overdose Prevention Centers (MA4OPC), 70 percent of Massachusetts voters support passing such state legislation. Both Rhode Island and Minnesota have passed legislation authorizing OPCs.
Overdose prevention centers are legally authorized facilities where people can safely consume pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained health care workers. As the new DPH study notes, these facilities are proven to prevent overdose deaths and to increase access to treatment by connecting people with counseling, medical help, and recovery services. The American Medical Association recently recommended overdose prevention centers as a meaningful way to help end the overdose epidemic.
The Department of Public Health today also released new statewide data showing approximately 1,718 total confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths in the first nine months of 2023. Between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2023, there were a total of 2,323 overdose deaths in Massachusetts. The state had a record 2,359 opioid-related overdose deaths in all of 2022.
The Massachusetts for Overdose Prevention Centers coalition released the following statements in response:
“The feasibility study further validates the efficacy of overdose prevention centers, which must be part of our comprehensive public health approach to reducing overdose deaths,” said Massachusetts Medical Society president Dr. Barbara Spivak, whose organization has been advocating for the establishment of an OPC pilot since 2017. “As physicians, we recognize that addiction is a chronic disease and have seen the ravages of this epidemic and its effect on families, patients, and communities. We must approach this public health crisis with evidence-based measures, including the deployment of all harm-reduction tools at our disposal. In order to treat our patients and support their path to recovery, we must first keep them alive.”
“Every overdose death is preventable. But stopping these needless fatalities requires using every effective strategy that is available to us,” said Jimmy Kamel, Medical Director of Medication Assisted Treatment Program at Fenway Health. “Overdose prevention centers are a cost-effective, proven tool to prevent opioid deaths and bring people into care. This feasibility study shows the potential impact of overdose prevention centers in Massachusetts. When combined with other evidence-based harm reduction services, including programs tailored to high-risk groups such as LGBTQIA+ people and people of color, we can expect to see progress in the fight to end the opioid epidemic and save lives.”
“I understand some may feel OPCs are unconventional, but it is time to think outside the box. I am not aware of a single study indicating any negative impact of current OPC's in operation to date. While policies can change, the loss of a life can never be reversed,” said Gary Carter, parent of loss.
“Massachusetts continues to lag in its efforts to address the opioid crisis and the devastation it has left behind. Six people die every day in this state from overdose,” said Lynn Wencus, parent of loss and member of Team Sharing. “How many more lives must we lose before we realize that overdose deaths are preventable? Overdose prevention centers save lives. It is critical that the state acts now to pass legislation that allows OPCs. While there is life, there is hope.”
Massachusetts for Overdose Prevention Centers (MA4OPC) is a statewide coalition of more than 30 organizations committed to establishing overdose prevention centers in Massachusetts. The coalition — including major Massachusetts hospitals and providers, leading medical and public health groups, and nonprofit organizations — supports efforts to save lives, expand harm reduction strategies, and link people to treatment and recovery support services.
For more information about MA4OPC and H.1981/S.1242, go to http://www.ma4opc.org