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Lawmakers spar over proposed “safe injection sites”

(Photo: Paul Nelson)

UTAH STATE CAPITOL – A proposal that’s designed to help people get past drug addictions is getting a lot of pushback from lawmakers, even before the bill has been written.

The representative behind the bill says it would create safe places where people can consume or inject illegal drugs in supervised areas.  However, critics say it would just enable drug use.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Jen Dailey-Provost and she got the inspiration for the bill after looking at data from Europe and Canada.  She says these kinds of spaces have proven to be safe and effective, there, and she wants to bring them to Utah.  Dailey-Provost says the current methods of dealing with addicts aren’t helping.

“That it needs to be driven into dark places and that people need to be vilified or excoriated because they struggle with addiction, it just perpetuates the problem,” she says.

The specifics of where these “safe injection sites” would be has not been hammered out, since the bill hasn’t been drafted, yet.  She says this proposal would be like an extension of Utah’s needle exchange program, which gives addicts clean syringes to prevent the spread of disease.  Dailey-Provost believes too many opioid users are ingesting their drugs in places where no one could help them if anything goes wrong.

“They’re doing it in public bathrooms and in parks and they’re passing out,” she says, adding that when people are unconscious in public they’re more vulnerable to attack.

Representative Steve Eliason sponsored the needle exchange bill, but he is completely opposed to “safe injection sites.”

“It normalizes drug use and it’s not really being performed for medical purposes,” he says.

Eliason says when addicts come get clean needles, they’re given information about how they can get treatment for their addictions.  However, he believes this bill would send a bad message to addicts.

“It seems a bit of an oxymoron, as it relates to the Utah Clean Air Act we would say, ‘No use of tobacco inside, but, go ahead and use heroin,” he says.

Plus, he believes these safe havens wouldn’t even be legal since drug possession is against federal law.