Burlington City Council Waters Down Safe Injection Site Measure | Off Message

Burlington City Council Waters Down Safe Injection Site Measure


  • Sean Metcalf
Updated at 9:50 a.m.

The Burlington City Council decided to move forward with a resolution promoting opiate treatment, but inserted key language saying that safe injection sites won’t happen anytime soon.

The council voted 9-3 to endorse buprenorphine treatment and appoint two councilors to the CommunityStat opiate study committee but will not take concrete steps toward establishing a safe injection facility "until the city council affirmatively votes to do so" in a separate vote.

It took two hours of debate and nine proposed amendments Monday night before the council issued its "yes" vote to the altered measure.

First, though, Councilor Karen Paul (D-Ward 6) rolled out half a dozen experts to speak in favor of the initiative, including Burlington Fire Chief Steve Locke, opioid data analyst Jackie Corbally, and Howard Center CEO Bob Bick.

The resolution "will absolutely save lives," added Rep. Selene Colburn (P/D-Burlington), a former city councilor.
Proponents portrayed it as a necessary piece of a complicated treatment puzzle. "This is chipping away at a deep, deep intractable problem and we have to take this step," said Brian Pine (P-Ward 3). But those opposing the measure said it was too hasty and broad, and didn't incorporate enough public input.

Councilors Dave Hartnett (D-North District) and Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) opposed the measure, in part, on the grounds that safe injection sites are illegal under federal law. Christina Nolan, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, has previously spoken against the sites.

Councilor Jane Knodell (P-Central District) introduced a pair of amendments, one noting that the measure wouldn't actually mean the city was moving forward with a safe injection site, and a second affirming that as the council explored the idea, "the vigorous prosecution of illegal drug trafficking by the City of Burlington will not be compromised."

The amendments passed, but in the end, Knodell voted against the full measure, criticizing the council for a lack of public input and for not hearing from experts who were opposed to safe injection sites. "I fear we're falling into group-think here," she said.

Correction, July 17, 2018: A previous version of this story, and its headline, incorrectly described how the amendments affected the proposal.