A coalition of community health organizations has launched a petition urging the Maryland General Assembly to create overdose prevention sites across Maryland.
In the 2020 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly failed to pass a bill seeking to establish an Overdose and Infectious Disease Prevention Services Program, including the creation of up to six overdose prevention sites.
The Baltimore Resources for Indoor Drug-use Grassroots Education & Safety (BRIDGES) Coalition comprises more than 30 community-based organizations, as well as peer advocates, faith leaders and residents. The coalition launched their “Yes On My Block” campaign on Tuesday, which also marks Overdose Awareness Day.
The coalition is calling for lawmakers to authorize the creation of overdose prevention sites, where individuals would be able to inject or consume drugs, which they have obtained on their own, under the supervision of health professionals. Health professionals would provide sterile needles, administer first aid, and provide other services.
Members of the coalition said they have heard critics say that nobody will want an overdose prevention site on their block. In response to that, the coalition members are saying “yes, I do” and encouraging their fellow Marylanders to add their voice to the effort.
“We BRIDGES organizers have had conversations with thousands of people through dozens of events,” said in a statement Ron Phillips, of Bmore POWER, a BRIDGES member. “We know there is a groundswell of community support for OPS across Maryland and definitely in Baltimore City.”
There is a “desperate need” for more overdose prevention sites in Baltimore, the coalition said, and that need is growing.
The number of fatal opioid-related overdoses in Maryland increased every year from 2011 to 2018, starting at 529 deaths recorded in 2011 to 2,143 recorded in 2018, according to data from the state’s Opioid Operational Command Center.
Although the number decreased slightly to 2,106 in 2019, it climbed again to 2,518 in 2020.
Data shows that fentanyl is the leading cause of overdose deaths. There were 564 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the first quarter of 2021, followed next by 223 cocaine-related overdose deaths in that period.
“Fentanyl has changed the landscape in Baltimore City to the point where new and innovative solutions are needed to save and improve lives,” said in a statement Vicky Walters, a BRIDGES member and service provider at REACH Health Services in Station North. “Overdose prevention sites fit that bill and having one in our clinic’s neighborhood would support so many residents.”
BRIDGES co-founder Ricky Morris, of the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, said they have heard support for overdose prevention sites while working in the Sandtown neighborhood in West Baltimore.
“We have the whole community behind us saying ‘yes on our block,’ and that’s what we need to get politicians to hear us on,” Morris said in a statement.
Mayor Brandon Scott has expressed support for overdose prevention sites as one tool for reducing harm from overdoses and substance use disorder in Baltimore City.
“We must accept that the way we’ve dealt with people who use drugs is wrong and has not saved lives,” Scott said in a statement in a press release from the coalition. “Central to my vision for a safer Baltimore is implementing an evidence-based, harm reduction approach — one that is rooted in public health. Continuing our education and advocacy efforts around overdose prevention sites is critical to how we get there.”
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, a national coalition aiming to “reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition,” there are approximately 120 “safe consumption sites” around the world, including in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland.
There are approximately 120 SCS currently operating in ten countries around the world (Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland).
In July, Rhode Island became the first state in the U.S. to authorize the creation of safe injection sites as part of a two-year pilot program.
The BRIDGES Coalition’s petition is addressed to members of the Baltimore City Council and Baltimore’s delegation in the state legislature.
In addition to their petition, the coalition is encouraging people to set up a Yes on My Block visual display in their neighborhood, organization, place of worship, or business by contacting email@example.com.