Burlington City Council votes to support analysis of safe injection sites

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 12:37 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2020 at 8:59 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington City Council voted Monday night to support the concept of overdose prevention sites and to consider creating one in the Queen City.

The council voted unanimously on a resolution that asks the city attorney to conduct an analysis of the legal challenges in establishing an overdose prevention site.

An overdose prevention site — also known as a safe injection site — is a facility where people can go to use drugs under trained medical supervision. Proponents argue it can save lives by providing people struggling with drug addiction with sterile needles, health care services and referrals to medical treatment.

Overdose prevention sites are highly controversial. Cities across the country have tried to build them, but the federal government has warned against them. The U.S. Justice Department says these sites violate federal law and it’s a felony to maintain any place for using controlled substances.

During a presentation on safe recovery options, Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, said he is in favor of further examining overdose prevention sites.

“Certainly, between the need to pursue all options and the progress that safe consumption facilities have made in the Philadelphia area, certainly I support further exploration and possible new investment,” Weinberger said.

Councilors argue drug addiction should be treated as a health concern, not a criminal one.

Some people in Burlington agree.

“I think it makes sense because those people are usually addicted and they’re going to shoot up anyway, so if they’re shooting up in a safer environment that’s got safer equipment, that makes some sense to me,” said Josh Hartle.

“It’s great for the people who are drug users because they can avoid HIV or other infections that often come along with intravenous drug use,” said Ryan Monteith. “They can just feel that society cares about them and there’s actually people out there who are taking this problem seriously.”

Those against overdose prevention sites didn’t want to go on camera with WCAX but they said they think it’s too risky, potentially dangerous and counterproductive to trying to curb substance abuse.

The council is asking for the city attorney’s report by the end of November. They’re also requesting the city’s opioid manager coordinate with the Howard Center to go over budget, operational structures and funding.

Councilors say 15 people have died of overdoses in Chittenden County this year, which is up between 2018 and 2019.

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