Statement of the U.S. Attorney’s Office concerning Proposed Injection Sites
In studying safe injection facilities (SIFs), the Chittenden County State’s Attorney (CCSA) and the Commission members were motivated by their desire to save lives and combat the scourge of opiate addiction in Vermont. Everyone in the law enforcement community shares these goals. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, however, disagrees with the recommendation of the Commission that SIFs be established in Vermont. SIFs are counterproductive and dangerous as a matter of policy, and they would violate federal law.
As to policy, the proposed government-sanctioned sites would encourage and normalize heroin use, thereby increasing demand for opiates and, by extension, risk of overdose and overdose deaths. Opiate users, moreover, all-to-often believe they are purchasing heroin when, in fact, they are purchasing its common substitute, fentanyl, ingestion of which gives rise to greatly enhanced dangers of overdose and fatality. Introduction of fentanyl to SIFs would create additional public health risks, not only for the users, but for SIF staff members who might come in contact with that highly potent substance. Further, heroin and other opiates are not Vermont products, but rather, introduced to Vermont from out-of-state. End users – no matter the location they use – fuel the national and international market. When users purchase heroin (or fentanyl) for injection at an SIF, those transactions will stimulate the heroin market and put money into the hands of out-of-state profit-driven dealers and drug trafficking organizations, while doing nothing to ensure that consumers stop purchasing and injecting heroin. SIFs would, thus, frustrate and undermine years of hard work by those in Vermont law enforcement and the treatment community to decrease opiate use and trafficking. Such facilities would also threaten to undercut existing and future prevention initiatives by sending exactly the wrong message to children in Vermont: the government will help you use heroin. Indeed, by encouraging and normalizing heroin injection, SIFs may even encourage individuals to use opiates for the first time, or to switch their method of ingestion from snorting to injection, the latter carrying greatly increased risk of fatality and overdose. In short, opiate addicts need treatment, not a place to continue using. Rather than encourage and normalize heroin injection, by affording a purportedly legal setting for use, the government must help addicts stop using. We can achieve that goal. Time and again in federal court, we have seen defendants recover from heroin addiction with the help of law enforcement intervention, Judges (including those who oversee our drug courts), the United States Probation Office, and our partners in the drug treatment community. We continue to believe in statewide collaborative approaches to the addiction crisis that involve enforcement, treatment, and prevention.
Of equal importance, the proposed SIFs would violate several federal criminal laws, including those prohibiting use of narcotics and maintaining a premises for the purpose of narcotics use. It is a crime, not only to use illicit narcotics, but to manage and maintain sites on which such drugs are used and distributed. Thus, exposure to criminal charges would arise for users and SIF workers and overseers. The properties that host SIFs would also be subject to federal forfeiture.
The United States Attorney emphasizes that this statement is not intended to cast aspersions on the motives of anyone involved in the Commission recommendation, but rather, to express the perspective of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and outline the ramifications under federal law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office appreciates the work of the CCSA and the members of her office. They are public servants dedicated to helping Vermonters. We have a strong relationship with the CCSA, and we look forward to working closely with all of Vermont’s State’s Attorneys to combat threats to the safety and security of Vermonters.