Santa Fe, NM—In response to New Mexico’s generations-long overdose crisis, increasing overdose deaths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a recent increase in fentanyl-related overdoses across the state, Representative Deborah Armstrong (D-17) introduced House Bill 123, authorizing overdose prevention programs (OPPs), also known as safer consumption spaces or supervised injection facilities, as a critical public health tool to combat overdose deaths and provide a bridge to health care, substance use treatment and social supports. The bill authorizes municipalities and counties to establish overdose prevention programs that meet guidelines prescribed by the New Mexico Department of Health. The legislation also provides legal protections for the programs and participants.
Overdose prevention programs are facilities where people can legally consume previously purchased illicit drugs under the supervision of trained staff who help make their use safer, respond immediately to overdoses, and connect them with medical care, drug treatment, and social services.
Deborah Armstrong, NM Representative and Chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee: “New Mexico has long been concerned about the high rate of overdoses and now is the time we use every harm reduction tool at our disposal to prevent overdoses and help save lives. Overdose prevention programs in hundreds of other cities across the world have proven to link people who use drugs to treatment and other services, reduce overdose deaths, prevent transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, and reduce street-based drug use and syringe disposal. If we are serious about reducing overdoses, and helping people to feel safe, supported and cared for in order to engage in treatment and recovery, then we have a responsibility to create overdose prevention programs here in New Mexico.”
Emily Kaltenbach, Senior Director of Resident States and New Mexico, Drug Policy Alliance: “With this bill, New Mexico has the opportunity to provide people access to critical services that can save lives and shift its approach away from the failed punitive policies of the war on drugs. Overdose prevention programs are an essential component of a continuum of care for people who use drugs. These services will reach the people who need them most, move them off the streets, protect their dignity and health, and provide a pathway to drug treatment and other vital services. New Mexico has a long history of leading in innovative harm reduction, and this is an important moment to set an example for other states and do it again.”
Background: Overdose prevention programs (OPPs) or Supervised consumption services (SCS) are provided in legally sanctioned facilities that allow people to consume pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained staff and are designed to reduce the health and public order issues often associated with public drug consumption. Facility staff members do not directly assist in consumption or handle any drugs brought in by clients, but are present to provide sterile injection supplies, answer questions on safe injection practices, administer first aid if needed, and monitor for overdose. This is particularly pertinent to fentanyl because the onset of overdose is rapid and waiting for an ambulance may mean death or permanent brain damage due to lack of oxygen. OPP staff also offer general medical advice and referrals to drug treatment, medical treatment, and other social support programs.
There are approximately 120 SCS currently operating in ten countries around the world (Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland) – but none in the United States. OPPs can play a vital role as part of a larger public health approach to drug policy. They are intended to complement – not replace – existing prevention, harm reduction, and treatment interventions.
Supervised consumption spaces are designed to reduce the health and societal problems associated with drug use. Such facilities provide sterile injection equipment, information about reducing the harms of drugs, health care, treatment referrals, and access to medical staff. Some offer counseling, drug treatment, and other services. Extensive research on these facilities consistently demonstrates a variety of cost-saving public health benefits including reducing public nuisance associated with illicit drug use, such as public drug use and improper syringe disposal; reducing overdose deaths; increasing access to drug treatment; and reducing risk behaviors for Hepatitis C and HIV.
Learn more about Overdose Prevention Programs (OPPs) or Supervised Consumption Sites (SCS) here.