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Maryland needs overdose prevention sites to save lives

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In the first three quarters of 2019, Maryland’s overdose fatality rate dropped slightly due to the state’s impressive efforts to get naloxone into the hands of people most at risk of overdose. Naloxone reverses opioid overdoses, but in order to save a life, someone else must be there to administer it. Unfortunately, due to punitive laws that criminalize drug use, many people use alone, putting them at enormous risk of fatal overdose. Approving overdose prevention sites (OPS) can get us closer to ending the opioid crisis quickly.

Before moving to Queenstown, I spent 28 years as a district court judge in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I saw firsthand the disruption the War on Drugs has caused. Substance use disorder is a health problem, and the criminal legal system is never the best way for people to access clinical care. Many of the people who passed through my courtroom were repeat offenders, whose frequent stays in jail had done nothing to help them to recover. When I moved to Maryland, I joined the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) to use my experiences to help change the way we approach drug use. I am one of many Maryland residents who has learned how necessary OPS are and supports legislation being considered in the Maryland General Assembly this year.

The overdose prevention services legislation would authorize community-based organizations to establish up to six sites that would offering immediate and life-saving services for people who use drugs. These services include providing clean, single-use items for drug administration, supervised injection, wound care, and referral to treatment services, to name a few. Overdose prevention sites are safe, hygienic, and provide our most outcasted community members a place to go when they are at their most vulnerable. If the bill passes, it will allow interested communities the option of opening a facility to provide these services. When rock bottom is death, service providers should be allowed to do everything in their power to keep their neighbors, family members, and loved ones out of isolation.

We have lost thousands of Marylanders to drug overdoses in the last few years, but there is hope. Just this week, the first OPS in the country cleared its final legal hurdle and will soon open in Philadelphia. It is time we let our elected officials know that we, their constituents, have their backs in supporting overdose prevention services legislation.

Judge Gordon McAllister (Ret.), Queenstown, MD, is a speaker for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

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