Could safe injection sites curb Vermont's heroin epidemic?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) "I was using since I was 15 years old. I'm now 30; that's half my lifetime I've been sticking a needle in my arm every day," Lori Wright said.

Wright hates looking at her track marks but tells us they're a reminder of where she's been. Shooting up in the woods, cars, even library bathrooms. Places that weren't always safe or clean.

"When people go to shoot up, it's not because they want to shoot up, it's because they feel like they need to," she said.

"Until we can get people into treatment and until we can get them safe, we should make sure that they don't overdose," said Mayor Svante Myrick, D-Ithaca, New York.

Ithaca's mayor is pushing New York lawmakers to sign off on "Supervised Injection Sites," rooms where medical professionals would monitor IV drug users. Clean needles, overdose reversal drugs and access to treatment would all be on-hand.

"The biggest legal hurdle is it's illegal right now," Myrick said.

Chittenden County's chief prosecutor is considering the option, too. In March, Sarah George put together a commission to study supervised injection sites.

"It is something that is killing people now," George said.

There have been 42 overdose deaths so far this year in Vermont. George says she'll review the commission's report-- due next month-- before approaching lawmakers in January.

"If people are objecting to it, then they need to come up with other possibilities because just saying that you don't want to do this isn't going to work," George said.

This is not a new concept for the rest of the world. There are 110 supervised injection sites in 10 countries. Canada has operated them for more than a decade. Myrick says in cities with them, street crime is down and users are 35 percent more likely to enter treatment after going to a supervised site.

The controversy centers on the message. Critics say these places encourage drug use.

"If I told you there was a supervised injection site on Church Street, would you say, 'OK, well I've never done it before, but I've got a half an hour, let's go try heroin.'? No, of course not," Myrick said.

Still, the Vermont Department of Public Safety and Vermont State Police tell us they oppose these sites. Not all addicts we spoke think they'll work.

"I just wouldn't feel comfortable with it. I'm kind of a do-my-drugs-behind-closed-doors type of person," said Christopher Bocash, a former IV drug user.

The fear for some is getting busted with their drugs. For George, it's more about safety and savings.

"We are already spending a ton of money in health care costs," she said.

Public dollars paying for opiate-related hospitalizations.

Wright's turning point was a blood infection, likely tied to a dirty needle, that attacked her heart.

"Being in the hospital. Almost dying from an infection," she said.

She's been clean since her brush with death in June.

"I don't know how many more funerals we can plan," Myrick said. "This will happen. It is the right policy. It saves lives."