Members of the Public Health Committee during a meeting on March 27, 2023 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Lawmakers on the legislature’s Public Health Committee said Monday they do not intend to move forward with a proposal to establish three safe drug use sites in Connecticut because the concept would have jeopardized federal funding. 

The facilities, called harm reduction centers, are part of a wide-ranging bill on combating an epidemic of opioid related deaths. Among other things, the bill would have created a pilot program to establish the centers where residents with substance abuse disorders could safely consume drugs under supervision of trained health care professionals equipped with emergency treatment options like Narcan.

Although the program remains in the legislative language which the Public Health Committee was expected to approve Monday afternoon, co-chair Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, said the bill will be amended to remove references to on-site drug use. 

“They will not be consumption sites as far as we are concerned,” Anwar said. “We’ve changed the language because if they are consumption sites or observed consumption sites, the federal law will restrict us.”

Those federal restrictions could prevent the state from paying for the services with money from a fund backed by settlements from lawsuits against opioid distributors and manufacturers, Anwar said. 

Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Nancy Navarretta raised concerns over federal law during a public hearing on the bill last week. 

Lawmakers on the Public Health Committee were divided on the change during Monday’s meeting. Sen. Jeff Gordon, R-Woodstock, supported the change. Gordon worried the original bill enabled ongoing drug use in addition to conflicting with federal law. 

“As a senator and as a doctor, I do support efforts that are responsible and legal to see what we can do to help people and we do have to be mindful that the state should really not be trying to supersede federal law,” he said. 

Others like Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said he was disappointed by the removal of the safe injection site provision, which he called one of the key elements of the harm reduction centers. 

“That’s the model that I think we really want to test out. I assume we don’t want to sacrifice access to federal funds but I would hope that if other states continue to prove the effectiveness of that option that we consider other funding sources,” he said. “If we want to maximize the benefit for people who are addicted, we need to avail ourselves of all the prudent services that should be available to them and we’re falling short.”

Even without allowing safe injection sites, Anwar said the three harm reduction centers created by the bill would still expand available services for Connecticut residents struggling with substance abuse through efforts to connect them with doctors, mental health providers, and counselors.