Burlington City Council votes to explore safe injection sites

(WCAX)
Published: Jul. 17, 2018 at 5:54 PM EDT
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Is it a tool to battle the opiate crisis or something that could put Burlington in legal jeopardy?

The Burlington City Council has passed a resolution to explore the idea of a safe injection site. These are supervised injection sites where people can do drugs, but supporters say they can help curb the opioid crisis. Whether they will ever actually be legal in Vermont is another question.

"We have really got to do out of the box thinking here if we're going to save lives, we are losing too many people," said Jackie Corbally, the opioid policy manager for the city of Burlington.

Opioid overdoses killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, with 125 people dying from drug overdose deaths in Vermont alone. That's according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, the city of Burlington wants to do something about it, agreeing Monday to look into the possibility of a safe injection site.

"What people find is that overdoses go down, access to treatment goes up, crime behavior goes down and we have less needles on the streets that people are encountering," Corbally said.

Corbally says these medically supervised drug use sites can have positive effects.

"When you're in the throes of addiction, oftentimes people using safe injection sites are not using the sites to get high, they're using them to just function," Corbally said.

The resolution cites a survey of 74 syringe exchange clients at Safe Recovery in Burlington. Ninety percent say they would use this site.

City Councilor Karen Paul helped draft the resolution.

"The whole premise of harm reduction is to meet the drug user where they are at. It's not judgmental, it's not coercive and it doesn't condemn. What it's trying to do is move that person from where they are to, at their pace, to safer user, to managed use and hopefully to abstinence," said Paul, D-Burlington City Council.

But there is the issue of legality. Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George has expressed support for bringing the sites to Vermont, while the U.S. attorney's office says they are "counterproductive and dangerous."

"It was clear that by our last meeting, it was not so much a question of whether we should do this but a question of when," George said.

But some on the City Council, like President Kurt Wright, don't think it's the right approach.

"I know it's only exploring this but I could not put my name on something that really I think detracts and distracts from more important issues in regard to the opioid crisis," said Wright, R-Burlington City Council.

For now, the Council will create a report that's expected to be released next summer.

There are currently no safe injection sites in the U.S., but some are being considered throughout the country. Whether Burlington will get one is still a long way off.