Push to Create Facilities Where Users Can Safely Consume Drugs

Legislators are pushing to reduce the number of overdose deaths by creating harm reduction centers in Connecticut where people could safely consume drugs.

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For years, Carol Jones lived in isolation. 

“Not able to leave the dorm room and go to classes and then self-medicating with substances to help make me feel 'quote' normal,” Alliance for Living Harm Reduction Champion Carol Jones said. 

Having lived with drug addiction and now 33 years clean, Jones has a passion to help others battling the same addiction. 

“Connecting with other people is the way people can start to feel somewhat whole and work through the stigma of substance use,” Jones said. 

Jones was one of the dozens of people present during a public hearing on Wednesday discussing harm reduction centers.

The facilities are part of a proposed bill. As the language reads, a harm reduction center would be a place where a person may safely consume drugs, under the supervision of a healthcare professional who could provide Narcan and prevent an overdose death. 

There would be three locations. The bill does not specify where. 

“Every year we are losing more than a thousand people in our state. Every day we are losing four people in our state,” said Sen. Saud Anwar (D - South Windsor). 

According to the most recent data by the Connecticut Department of Public Health, in 2021, there were more than 1,500 unintentional drug overdose deaths in Connecticut. 

Advocates said harm reduction centers would help bring down those numbers and provide direct access to resources. 

“We want people to be treated like people and show them that we care, we want you to live, here are these tools to keep you alive,” said Trish Rios, with Alliance for Living. 

On the other side of the aisle, there are concerns and questions about who would fund these centers and where the locations would be.

“This has been tried in larger cities and has not reduced the opioid addiction. It may have provided a safe place to do drugs but it hasn’t moved the needle on addiction,” said Sen. Heather Somers (R - Groton). 

The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said in a statement:

“Harm reduction is vital in combating the opioid crisis. DMHAS funds two harm reduction centers in Hartford. These centers provide access to naloxone, fentanyl test strips, education, connection to treatment, recovery support, and access to peers with lived experience. Harm reduction staff are trained on overdose recognition and response, as well as harm reduction best practices. Since current federal law prohibits the use of controlled substances on site at harm reduction centers, DMHAS is concerned that allowing use of controlled substances at harm reduction sites violates federal law. DMHAS suggests this activity not occur until the federal government law is amended.”

The Public Health Committee will vote on whether or not the bill advances.

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