Our Opinion: Ideology is stalling promising opioid plan

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As Massachusetts and the rest of the country explore every possible avenue in the battle against opioid addiction, the commonwealth is considering opening supervised safe injection sites where addicts can gain access to clean needles in a secure environment, and where, brought out into the open, they can receive information about treatment and recovery options. This is by no means a solution to the problem, but from a public health standpoint it seeks to provide the safest possible environment for those who, regardless of their addiction problems, are still members of the public and deserve the same societal concern as any other residents.

Supervised safe injection sites have opened in other countries, most notably neighboring Canada, with some success. Unfortunately in Massachusetts, public health interests have run aground on the shoals of law enforcement — specifically, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling, the state's top law official. In a Monday op-ed article he authored for The Boston Globe, Mr. Lelling declared in no uncertain terms that he would not tolerate any attempt to open such a facility in the Bay State, reasoning that federal statute made such activity illegal, and that he intended to enforce it.

Under federal law, cannabis is considered a Schedule 1 drug just like opioids, so his decision to cherry-pick which drug to go after flunks the logic test. His rationale that injection sites "normalize intravenous drug use" and that they should be aggressively prevented conforms with a strict interpretation of federal law, but it begs the question as to why, if both substances are considered equally illegal by statute, he should arbitrarily devote his office's resources to stamping out one and not the other.

In another WBUR interview last July, Mr. Lelling reminded his audience that he was a law enforcement officer, "not a policymaker." Nevertheless, his assertion that he would use all legal means at his command — civil and criminal — to ensure that safe injection sites never open within his jurisdiction while turning a blind eye to cannabis activity amounts to an establishment of policy. He claims that statistics supporting the effectiveness of injection sites are biased, but his claim is unsupported with real evidence. As such, his attack on safe injection sites is simply one of opinion and his assertion of bias merely betrays his own.

Mr. Lelling asserts that there is a philosophical clash at work here but those on the business end of the opioid addiction issue are interested in results, not philosophy. Safe injection sites ought to be given a chance to work, with the final verdict on their effectiveness or lack of same based on the results. Lives are at stake here, and "big government" in the form of the U.S. Justice Department, should not hinder promising state efforts to save lives.

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