By Kristina Rex

SOMERVILLE (CBS) – Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone is stepping into uncharted waters by proposing what could be the first safe consumption site in the United States.

“What is real is that people are dying. They are overdosing,” he said. “We’re not going to be giving out drugs. We are trying to have safe oversight for people who are consuming drugs.”

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Curtatone has had a group of first responders, advocates and others researching the controversial approach for some time. It’s still early in the planning stages, but essentially the site would be a place to use illegal drugs under supervision. It would also connect them with treatment options should they choose. It’s unknown where the site would be located or whether it would be available to Somerville residents only or all users.

Without a safe site, Curtatone said, “people are going to go out to some public restroom or dark alleyway … and inject or take these drugs orally, and we’re going to have more fatalities.”

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone said a safe injection site could prevent fatalities. (WBZ-TV)

The concept of a safe use site has been encouraged for years by the grassroots organization SIFMA.

“People who use drugs deserve to live,” said member Cassie Hurd. “Safe consumption sites are an evidence-based intervention.”

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The concept, however, could be illegal, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In a statement, Attorney Andrew Lelling promised legal ramifications should Somerville move forward. “Opening a facility for people to inject themselves with heroin and fentanyl is illegal under federal and state law,” he said. “Barring a change in the Justice Department’s position, if Somerville opens one, federal enforcement will follow. … I agree that beating this public health crisis requires treatment and prevention as much as it does prosecution of drug traffickers. But supervised injection sites are not the answer.”

Some Somerville residents told WBZ they agree that a safe injection site is not the answer.

“Ain’t gonna be no different,” said Steve Merrill, who is seven years into his own recovery from heroin addiction. “People will shoot [up]. They’re still gonna go over there. Still gonna shoot over there.”

Merrill walks with a cane and has had a plethora of medical issues as a result of his years of drug abuse. He doesn’t believe drugs can ever be consumed “safely.” “[So they say it’s] 50 milliliters of heroin. What if it’s fentanyl? What if it’s carfentanyl? So they could shoot up, but it could kill them — and what, because there’s a nurse there, they’re supposedly safe? I don’t fall for it.”

Somerville resident Jan Collins said she doesn’t believe a safe injection site would work.

Somerville resident of 38 years Jan Collins isn’t on board either. She was once married to a man who suffered from heroin addiction, and in her words, can’t even tell you how many of her friends have lost kids. “It seemed like every time I turned around, I was going to a funeral, and it was for kids between age 18 and 30,” she said. Still, she doesn’t feel a safe injection site is the right move.

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The future of a safe consumption site in Somerville is very unclear. Mayor Curtatone wants one built by the end of 2020.

Kristina Rex