Overwhelmed By Overdoses, Clinic Offers A Room For Highs

The Boston Globe


It has become a grim workplace routine: the “code blue” crackling over the loudspeaker. The all-hands-on-deck emergency response. Then, in more than half the calls, the discovery of a nonresponsive person — blue lips, shallow breathing, and constricted pupils, all telltale signs of a drug overdose.

“It’s happening everywhere,” said Dr. Jessie Gaeta, chief medical officer at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, headquartered in the South End neighborhood infamously nicknamed Methadone Mile.

“People literally slump over in the waiting room... At the pharmacy window, in the lobby, in the dental clinic, in the respite clinic,” she said. “Everywhere.”

Alarm over the rocketing fatality rate, and the need to better manage staffing disruptions from all those overdoses, has led Boston Health Care for the Homeless to adopt an unorthodox and controversial plan: On Tuesday, it will open a room where drug users can ride out their highs under medical supervision, with the aim of preventing deaths.

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