Baltimore Sun

Advocates show what ‘overdose prevention site’ could look like

BRIDGES Coalition ran mock space out of NomüNomü Arts Collaborat­ive in Mount Vernon

- By Meredith Cohn

With drug overdose deaths continuing to rise, a league of advocates and providers have been pushing for safe, supervised places for people to use the drugs out of the public’s way.

The places, called overdose prevention sites, provide clean needles and test strips, access to treatment and support services and, most importantl­y, lifesaving interventi­ons when things go wrong.

The local network of advocates called the BRIDGES Coalition, wants to show Baltimore what that would look like.

The group last week ran a mock overdose prevention space out of the NomüNomü Arts Collaborat­ive in Mount Vernon, a location officials say would also be the kind of neighborho­od where such a center could be located.

“Baltimore is in crisis; the city lost over 1,000 people in 2020 and overdoses continue to rise,” said Rajani Gudlavalle­ti from the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, a BRIDGES member that supports needle exchanges, distributi­on of the overdose remedy naloxone and other programs to reduce ill effects related to drug use.

“This is an interventi­on, one among many, and it can save lives.”

Gudlavalle­ti cites two centers operating without any fatalities in New York City since November. They were the first sites in the country after federal courts under the

Trump administra­tion shut down a center planned in Philadelph­ia citing part of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act known as the “crack house statute.”

Other states are pursuing sites, hoping the Biden administra­tion continues to be more amenable. They include Rhode Island, where the legislatur­e has given approval, and California, where the legislatur­e is pursuing approval.

Many city and state lawmakers in Maryland support the efforts, including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. Without universal backing from the public and even all drug treatment providers, plenty of others continue to oppose approvals.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has called such sites “absolutely insane,” though it would be his successor who has final say if enough state legislator­s get on board.

A bill to create and legalize the sites failed for six years in the legislatur­e, and no bill was offered this year. Gudlavalle­ti, however, has lined up lawmakers to try again next year, with funding largely raised from private foundation­s rather than taxpayers.

In the meantime, advocates say the scope of the problem is huge and growing: There were 2,129 intoxicati­on deaths in Maryland in the first nine months of last year, state data shows. Most street drugs now contain the more powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl plus ever more dangerous cutting agents.

The group will work on boosting support for the sites as a means of moving drug users and their discarded parapherna­lia out of the public domain to safer spaces.

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