Once Opposed, Mass. Medical Society President Ready to Give SIFs a Try

Senator Brownsberger filed a bill this session, S.1081, that would give Massachusetts cities and towns the option of implementing “safer drug consumption programs,” which would provide a safe space for people who use drugs to consume pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of healthcare professionals, and to receive other related services, such as needle exchange, overdose prevention, and referrals to treatment and other recovery services.

In April 2017, the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) voted to endorse the legalization of supervised injection facilities (SIFs). In June, the American Medical Association followed suit, adopting a similar policy. MMS President, Dr. Henry Dorkin, authored an op-ed in STAT, a national health and medicine publication, earlier this month, charting the evolution of his thinking on establishing SIFs in Massachusetts, which he now supports.

Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on drug-related overdose deaths in the US, finding that life expectancy in the US declined in 2016 for the second consecutive year due to a 21% rise in overdose-related deaths. Before the declines in 2015-2016, the US had not experienced consecutive years of declining life expectancy since 1962-1963, when staggering rates of death due to influenza were to blame.

As the opioid crisis continues to devastate the nation, calls for solutions to assist those struggling with substance use disorders have amplified. While there are now approximately 100 SIFs operating in at least nine countries around the world, including several in Canada, proposals for establishing SIFs are just beginning to work their way through state legislatures in the US. As Dr. Dorkin remarks in his STAT op-ed, “…the opioid crisis and the frightening rate at which it has accelerated doesn’t allow for the outright dismissal of this idea — or any others — that could have prevented even one of the more than 60,000 deaths caused by drug overdoses in the United States last year. As a health care professional, I can’t stand idly by with the knowledge that a better way exists for reaching and caring for those suffering from the disease of addiction.

Senator Brownsberger’s bill, An Act to authorize public health workers to pursue new measures to reduce harm and stigma for people affected by substance use disorder, was heard by the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery on September 6 and is awaiting further action by the committee.


Quinn Diaz
Outreach Director
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger