Burlington City Council to Weigh In on Safe Injection Sites | Off Message

Burlington City Council to Weigh In on Safe Injection Sites


  • Sean Metcalf
The Burlington City Council on Monday will begin discussing the possibility of establishing a safe injection site in the city.

A "yes" vote on a resolution before the council would endorse a menu of opiate treatment options for the Queen City, including distribution of buprenorphine in emergency rooms, supporting opiate treatment for inmates across the state, and offering low-cost or free Narcan to reverse overdoses.

The most controversial item would be a safe injection site, which the resolution refers to as an overdose prevention site. It would provide a place for addicts to consume drugs and would also provide access to medical service, treatment options and clean needles — without legal repercussion.

The resolution does not create a safe injection site. It only encourages the city to move forward with discussions about such a facility. Creating one would involve a lengthy process, "possibly years," before it came to fruition, the resolution acknowledges, and would require a "full community vetting."

The council doesn't actually have authority to enact some of the proposed policies around buprenorphine and Narcan. Still, the resolution is a step in the right direction, said Councilor Karen Paul (D-Ward 6), who's been working on the measure since March.

"The council being on the record supporting and endorsing an overdose prevention site is meaningful," Paul said.

She said she expected the resolution to pass. "The feedback I’ve gotten from councilors is that they are very supportive, and that this is a crisis that we as a body should be speaking to," she said.

There are no safe injection sites in the United States, though some cities, including New York; Seattle; Ithaca, N.Y. and Philadelphia, are working to establish them. Vancouver, Canada, currently has the only such facility in North America.

The sites are likely in conflict with federal law and would require changes from the state legislature, along with from Vermont's U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan, according to Paul.

Nolan has previously said she opposes the sites because they encourage illicit drug use.

The measure, which is sponsored by six of the 12 councilors, appoints two councilors to the city's CommunityStat, a multidisciplinary group that works to address the opiate epidemic. It also asks CommStat to investigate the funding, necessary zoning changes and legal barriers to erecting an injection site.

The two CommStat appointees would report back to the council quarterly.

According to the resolution, Safe Recovery in Burlington surveyed 74 syringe exchange clients, and 90 percent of them said they'd use a safe injection site.

Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, who also worked on the resolution, already started a commission to study the issue last year. George has voiced support for the sites but has acknowledged the initiative could be a political fight.

If the city resolution passes, it would also offer councilors the option to undergo training to administer Narcan.

The resolution isn't just a token gesture of support, according to Councilor Max Tracy (P-Ward 2), one of the sponsors of the resolution. It's “taking us another step further in moving away from a purely punitive system and continuing to build harm reduction into our response of the opiate crisis,” he said.

Read the full resolution below:

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