Minnesota DHS to hold off on safe injection spaces for now

Changes to safe recovery sites

Changes to safe recovery sites

The Minnesota Department of Human Services is holding off on implementing safe injection, or safer use spaces, for now.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a law last year that provides $14.6 million in 2024 and $3 million each year after for DHS to create grants for organizations to establish Safe Recovery Sites. The sites can include safer use spaces, sterile syringe exchanges, Narcan kits, fentanyl and other drug checking, among other elements.

“These sites really often end up operating like hubs that draw people in that otherwise might be getting any care at all,” said Eric Grumdahl, the assistant commissioner for Behavioral Health, Housing, and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services for DHS during an interview in July.

Safer use spaces provide people a place to use drugs while being monitored by a medical professional. DHS has now decided to hold off on that element of the Safe Recovery Sites.

On its website, DHS said, “Federal law has been interpreted as prohibiting safer use spaces. While this state legislation was a huge step forward, Minnesota and its harm reduction partners have a lot of work to do before the safer use aspect of the safe recovery sites can be implemented. While safer use spaces will not initially be included in the services these sites provide, that component of the legislation will remain a priority. DHS is invested in working to make safer use spaces a reality in Minnesota.”

Southside Harm Reduction Services Executive Director Jack Martin supports the state taking its time and hopes in the months ahead to see outreach to the community that will use the spaces.

“We really, really support the safe injection sites however we also think it’s important to roll them out right,” he said. “[The spaces] prevent people from using in public spaces, it prevents people from using alone, and it also works to bridge people to other services such as healthcare and housing.”

Martin’s non-profit currently provides harm reduction services, including deliveries of clean needles, xylazine test kits, Narcan and other supplies.

“We work to reduce overdose deaths and the transmission of HIV and other infections related to drug use and living outside,” Martin said. “It impacts every community.”

He was excited to learn last year about the state’s plans to implement Safe Recovery Sites.

“We often know the people that pass away from overdose and I think that that is really hard, knowing people who needlessly pass away from overdose and knowing there are things that can prevent that overdoses,” said Martin. “We would love to operate safe recovery sites.”

According to its website, DHS plans to begin community engagement and put out a request for proposals in the coming months. The first round of RFPs will not include safer use spaces but once the initial contracts are in place, the state agency plans to do additional public outreach to explore how to add that component.