Could The Nation's First Supervised Injection Sites Be Coming To Maine?

By Lindsey Weedston 04/03/19

Maine’s bill would allow two facilities in the state and create a half-mile “tolerance zone” around each location, where individuals cannot be arrested for using drugs.

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Insite -  a supervised injection site in Canada
Insite - a safe injection site in Canada

Maine officials held a public hearing Monday to consider a bill that could establish the first safe injection sites in the country. The bill, called “An Act to Prevent Overdose Deaths,” would certify two facilities to “provide safe and secure locations for people to self-administer drugs,” according to FOX 23.

A number of local governments across the U.S. have considered opening “safe injection sites” or “supervised injection facilities” (SIFs) where individuals can safely use illicit substances with clean equipment and under the supervision of trained medical professionals, without the threat of arrest.

The philosophy behind these facilities is that people will use drugs one way or another, and giving them a safe space to do so prevents overdose deaths and the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. At the same time, medical professionals on site can offer recommendations for addiction treatment and other health issues related to drug use.

Places like Maryland, Seattle, San Diego, and Philadelphia have also considered opening safe injection sites. But the process has been slow going, not to mention the threat of legal action from the government. 

Most recently, the Philadelphia non-profit Safehouse was sued by state prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Justice to stop the opening of the city’s first SIF.

The legal challenge is based on a section of the federal Controlled Substances Act which intended to close “crack houses” in the '80s. The ruling on the Philadelphia case is expected to determine the future of SIFs in the country.

Meanwhile, the first of these sites in North America launched over 15 years ago in Vancouver, Canada. According to the BC Coroner’s Service spokesman, Andy Watson, there has not been a single death reported at any SIF in the province since they opened. At the same time, new HIV cases among people who use injection drugs have fallen by 86% since 2005.

Maine’s bill would allow two facilities in the state to act as safe injection sites and create a half-mile “tolerance zone” around each location, where individuals cannot be arrested for using drugs. Said facilities would also gather and report demographic data and other information, which would be used to determine if additional sites should be opened.

According to Maine Public, no one at the Monday hearing spoke against the bill, but “supporters acknowledged that safe injection sites would violate federal law.” So far, it does not appear that there are any legal challenges to this specific bill.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston

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