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Amid Baltimore’s opioid crisis, Mosby supports safe injection sites in new brief

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has come out in favor of safe injection sites for heroin and other drug users, signing onto a legal brief in support of the practice along with 63 other experts in the criminal justice field.

Mosby signed onto an amicus curiae brief filed Wednesday in United States v. Safehouse, a civil lawsuit by Philadelphia-based federal prosecutors and the Department of Justice in Washington that is challenging the legality of such a site in Philadelphia.

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The amicus curiae brief supports Safehouse, which is looking to open the nation’s first legal safe injection site, sometimes referred to as an overdose prevention site.

The brief, signed by other federal and state prosecutors along with law enforcement officials from across the country, says, “Philadelphia and other American communities gripped by this public health emergency should be able to make use of the proven benefits of an (overdose prevention site) to save lives, improve public health, and enhance community trust and public safety.”

The idea of giving people addicted to heroin and other drugs a safe place to use has gained traction as opioid overdose rates have skyrocketed in recent years, largely because of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid more potent than heroin. Such centers can be found in Europe, Canada and Australia.

However, some believe that opening such sites would promote the drug use and remove the deterrent of death or overdose that could push some toward entering addiction treatment.

Baltimore and some Maryland counties operate clean needle exchange programs, allowing drug users to trade their syringes for clean needles and resources for possible treatment. But Maryland doesn’t have a statewide system, and none of the Maryland programs allow for user to inject themselves on-site.

From January through March of this year, 515 people died due to opioid overdoses in Maryland, according to the state Department of Health. That is a decrease from last year’s record-setting figure during the same period, but is the second highest number in at least 12 years.

In Baltimore, 224 people died to due opioid overdoses during that period, according to the health department.

In June, Justice Department attorneys filed a motion for judgment, asking the judge to rule in favor of their lawsuit challenging safe injection sites. The attorneys wrote that “it is unlawful to provide a site for the illegal use of controlled substances, and that the use of heroin in particular serves no medical purpose.”

“Defendants may not violate this law,” the attorneys wrote. “Instead, they should seek recourse, if any, through the ordinary political and legislative process.”

In contrast, the Safehouse supporters wrote in their brief, “Repeated searches, arrests, prosecutions, and punishment in response to a public health concern exacerbate tension between police and the community, thereby eroding trust."

“Treating overdose locations as crime scenes can also alienate community members and dissuade people from calling for help,” they said.

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