WASHINGTON — As the opioid crisis worsens throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia, one local lawmaker is considering an extremely controversial approach that would allow users to inject drugs without facing legal penalties.
“Last year, we recorded 216 opioid-related deaths in the District,” said D.C. Council member David Grosso during a hearing this week. “Meanwhile, we continue to face an HIV epidemic.”
In a letter to Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, the director of the city’s health department, Grosso asked health officials to study the possibility of setting up supervised injection facilities, describing them as health care settings “where people struggling with addiction are able to inject drugs in a controlled hygienic environment under the supervision of medical staff.”
He asked Nesbitt to examine what steps the city would need to take to set up the facilities and said he wants to hear back from her by late October.
“We must explore additional evidence-based measures to keep people alive,” wrote Grosso. “King County in Washington State has approved the establishment of two sites, while at least seven state legislatures are considering legislation authorizing such facilities.”
Grosso said the sites could help prevent overdoses and get users connected to treatment options, although those who oppose the idea in King County and elsewhere have spoken out strongly against having sanctioned drug-use in their communities.
Along with writing his letter to the health department, Grosso introduced a pair of bills related to the opioid crisis.
One of them would expand the areas in which D.C.’s needle exchange program can operate.
The other bill would loosen regulations on medical marijuana, giving patients the ability to obtain it without a doctor’s referral in certain cases.
“Medical marijuana has been shown to be a viable alternative to the prescription of opioid painkillers, which can set people down the path to addiction,” Grosso said. “There is more we can do to improve access for patients and reduce opioid reliance.”
Read Grosso’s letter below.