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Cambridge To Consider Developing Overdose Prevention Centers

The Cambridge City Council adopted a policy order supporting state legislation to legalize overdose prevention centers statewide.
The Cambridge City Council adopted a policy order supporting state legislation to legalize overdose prevention centers statewide. By Julian J. Giordano
By Avani B. Rai, Crimson Staff Writer

The City Council unanimously adopted a policy order on Monday supporting state legislation to legalize overdose prevention centers statewide and asked City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 to determine the city’s “willingness to consider hosting an OPC in Cambridge.”

Both the Massachusetts State House and Senate are considering bills to allow for the development of OPCs — facilities where individuals with pre-obtained drugs can consume them under the supervision of trained health care workers — in an effort to address the more than 25,000 overdose fatalities that have occurred in Massachusetts since 2000.

Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, one of the sponsors of the policy order, began the discussion with an amendment to make the policy order’s language less committal, replacing a commitment to the development of the facilities with language to allow Cambridge to begin discussions about OPCs with community stakeholders.

He said his desire to see OPCs in Cambridge came from personal experience.

“From the month of February to April of this year, just in about two and a half months, I lost two people very close to me from overdoses,” McGovern said, after beginning discussion with an amended version of the policy order.

In Cambridge, the city’s most recently available data on overdose deaths found that there had been 80 drug overdoses during the four-year period from 2019 to 2022.

“If 20 people a year were dying from anything else, people would be storming City Hall demanding that we do something,” McGovern said, “and when it comes to overdose deaths, it’s crickets.”

“If I filed a policy order about crickets, I would probably actually get a better response,” he added.

While OPCs have been operating for several years in Canada, Australia, and across Europe, similar legislation across the United States has been highly contentious, and the controversial policy is only currently being implemented in Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island.

However, according to the policy order, this past December, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health endorsed OPCs as an “evidence-based, valuable harm reduction service.”

Cambridge resident Emily Tixier, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said her experience with harm reduction specialists has shown her the benefits of OPCs.

“Every overdose death is preventable,” Tixier said, “and no overdose death has ever occurred at an overdose prevention center in the 30 years of operation that these have existed.”

Other Cambridge residents in support of the policy order — including Charles J. Franklin, who ran for City Council in 2019 — spoke of the personal impact of overdose deaths.

“I don’t think I know a single person who has been untouched by the addiction epidemic in some way, myself included,” said Franklin, whose cousin died of a drug overdose in 2019.

“Addiction is an illness to be treated. Not a crime,” Franklin added.

McGovern said the city would not need to use tax revenue to pay for the centers, as it has “millions, tens of millions of dollars” from Massachusetts’ statewide settlements with opioid distributors like Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens. Since 2021, the state has collected $106 million.

“Someone emailed me and said ‘Wow, this is really a crusade of yours,’” McGovern said.

“Well, if it’s a crusade to try and keep folks struggling with substance use addiction alive, then I will wear that patch,” he added.

Correction: May 15, 2024

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Charles J. Franklin ran for City Council in 2023. In fact, Franklin ran for City Council in 2019.

—Staff writer Avani B. Rai can be reached at avani.rai@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @avaniiiirai.

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