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Will Vermont Be the Next State to Permit Overdose Prevention Centers?

Jeffrey A. Singer

Yesterday, the Vermont Senate passed H.72, which permits an overdose prevention center (OPC) to operate in one municipality in the state, provided the municipality approves. The mayor and city council of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, have already signaled that they support this proven harm reduction strategy.

In a Cato briefing paper last year, I reported that OPCs have been preventing overdose deaths and the spread of infections for more than 40 years. In 2023, there were 147 OPCs operating in 91 communities and 16 countries. Two have been saving lives in New York City since December 2021 and had reversed more than 1,000 overdoses by the summer of 2023.

Rhode Island lawmakers approved OPCs in 2022; its first one is about to open in Providence.

A 1986 federal law, 21 U.S.C. Section 856, also referred to as the “crackhouse statute,” makes it illegal to “knowingly open, lease, rent, use, or maintain any place, whether permanently or temporarily, for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance.” Thus, New York City and Rhode Island are defying federal law.

Last year, Minnesota’s governor signed a law authorizing its Department of Health Services to establish OPCs, but the agency has hesitated to open them, stating that “federal law has been interpreted as prohibiting safer use spaces.”

As more state and local governments defy federal law and embrace OPCs, it might move Congress to repeal or amend the “crackhouse statute.”

Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) has opposed OPCs in the past. He vetoed a 2022 bill that sought to create one in the state. However, Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, recently voiced support for OPCs.

H. 72 passed the Senate with a veto‐​proof majority of 21–8, and supporters believe it has enough support in the Vermont House to override a veto. Perhaps the governor’s opinion of OPCs has changed as overdose deaths continue to mount and he will sign the bill.

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