Safe drug consumption spaces recommended for Baltimore

BALTIMORE (WBFF) -- A report published by the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School for Public Health recommends Baltimore consider opening "safe drug consumption spaces" where addicts can inject their drugs.

The report says the opioid epidemic is one of the most critical health problems of our time.

In 2015, overdose deaths surpassed homicides for the first time.

In Baltimore, there were 600 overdose fatalities in 2016, which nearly doubled the number of homicides in the city the same year.

The researchers suggest opening one facility each on the city's east and west sides.

They say such facilities would prevent overdose deaths and other harms that addicts face.

Susan Sherman, professor of health, behavior and society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School f Public Health, says similar programs in Vancouver, Canada and many European cities have proven successful in reducing the number of overdose deaths.

Sherman says, "We would hope Baltimore would be an integrated model where there would be a place for people to hang out, there would be counselors and case managers, there would be offices where people could meet with them to provide a range of services connected to housing, legal, food."

Sherman adds, "This is a plan to kind of desire to have a safe space that's located in a convenient area that actually has a lot of public nuisance associated with drug use off of the street."

Illegal drugs would not be provided to addicts, but they could inject their own drugs in facilities without fear of being arrested.

Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, says safe drug consumption centers would offer services to addicts "which means they could have their blood pressure checked, their heart rate monitored so if they happen to overdose, they can be prevented from dying.

"This is harm reduction approach because the goal is to save someone's life."

But supporters say if the program was implemented, it could be several years before the facilities would be constructed.

Critics contend such facilities could violate federal law since heroin and all opioid-related drugs are still illegal.

Dr. Wen says "Right now it's a hypothetical idea only. Before we can explore the concept, we need further guidance from our federal officials about the legality of such a facility."

Baltimore resident Rodriguez Sawyers does not think the idea of providing a legal venue in which addicts in inject their own drugs will be effective.

"You're encouraging people to get high. If anything, we want our African-Americans to stop getting high," said Sawyers.

A bill which would pave the way for safe drug consumption centers was heard Tuesday before a House of Delegates committee in Annapolis.

A similar measure was rejected last year.

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