Bill proposed in Utah to legalize overdose prevention sites for drug users

FILE - This Feb. 2, 2017 file photo, shows used needles littering the ground along train tracks in Philadelphia's largest open air drug market in the Kensington section of the city. A government study released on Thursday, June 7, 2018, found that heroin addicts and other injection drug users were 16 times more likely than other people to develop the staph infection MRSA. (Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

A place to legally do drugs is one step closer to becoming reality in the Beehive State.

House Bill 320, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost (D-Dist. 24), would legalize ‘overdose prevention sites,’ which is basically a legal place to do drugs under the care of trained medical staff.

Treatment options would also be available at these sites, which were deemed legal by a federal judge in October 2019.

The sites are used in Europe and Canada but nowhere is one operating in the United States because it was outlawed nationwide. The recent federal ruling allowed Dailey-Provost's bill file that now must get through the Administrative Rules Review Committee before heading to the standing committee of the House of Representatives.

The bill is in the final stages of getting a fiscal note. If the proposed bill passes rules, Utah lawmakers will then begin debating whether to pass a law to allow overdose prevention sites to become legal in the state of Utah.

However, the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to appeal the federal ruling, potentially setting up a long legal battle. In a previously released statement, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said:

The Department is disappointed in the Court’s ruling and will take all available steps to pursue further judicial review. Any attempt to open illicit drug injection sites in other jurisdictions while this case is pending will continue to be met with immediate action by the Department.

Utah is not the first state to explore opening overdose prevention sites. A non-profit group in Pennsylvania is trying to open the country’s first safe consumption site but is being sued by the DOJ to prevent the opening based on a violation of the Controlled Substance Act.

However, the call for a solution to combat the increasing deaths from opioid overdose is getting louder and stronger. Between 1999 and 2014, deaths involving prescription opioids quadrupled in the U.S., increasing from an age-adjusted death rate of 1.4 to 5.9 per 100000, according to the Centers for Prevention and Disease Control.

Given the outstanding harms associated with opioid misuse, the pressure continues to mount on lawmakers to address the public health crisis.