Few would dispute that the United States is currently struggling with a growing drug problem. As the heroin rages on, opioid addiction rates continue rising across the country. In addition, law enforcement agencies and addiction treatment centers must now account for new threats such as dangerously potent synthetic drugs. Many fear that our nation may lose the war on drugs , while others feel that we have already lost. But some facilities are utilizing a particularly controversial method to reduce the threat. These are known as safe injection sites.
The Benefits of Safe Injection Sites
There are many who support supervised injection sites, they claim that the gains outweigh the costs. Below are some of the advantages.
Supervised Injection Sites Create Sterile Environments
At safe injection sites, addicts are able to use their drug of choice without fear of contracting diseases such as HIV or AIDS . Since these sites provide sterile needles, supporters of safe consumption sites believe that it will prevent AIDS patients from injecting drugs on the streets, thereby limiting the spread of diseases. In terms of demographics, there is no telling how many lives such a measure can save. This applies not only to habitual heroin users, but also to initiates who may not think to question the origins of the paraphernalia involved in their drug abuse. In fact, One of Vancouver’s safe injection sites even resides within an AIDS treatment facility.
Safety from Drug Overdose
Another benefit of safe injection sites is that many of these centers also manage instances of drug overdose. Their focus is on harm reduction rather than addiction treatment. Proponents of such sites argue that although we cannot stop heroin addicts from abusing drugs, we can at least foster a life-saving environment to keep overdose rates  from rising.
Reactions to overdose depend upon the site in question. In Vancouver, medical professionals remain within close reach in case of overdose. In other continents, only first responders to medical emergencies retain the right to administer Narcan to overdose victims. An illegal pop-up site in Vancouver claimed overdose as the primary reason for their existence. As a volunteer told CBC News :
“Everybody is going full-tilt and it’s just not enough. People are dying. It’s just really shocking. Really what we are doing is illegal and we didn’t ask, but we are saving lives anyway.”
Moreover, supervised injection sites across the globe generally provide resources to help addicts stay clean.
Safe Consumption Sites and Crime
Supporters of safe injection sites also feel that such facilities may discourage crime. To be clear, most sites will not allow the purchase or sale of illegal drugs. They only provide the needles and means to use them in a safe environment. Proponents feel that safe injection sites put a damper on those who sell their drugs alongside paraphernalia. Instead of engaging in discussion with dealers who might sell infected needles, users acquire the drugs from one source before using it safely. This issue tends to leave questions, which will be covered below.
Arguments Against Safe Injection Sites
Safe injection sites go by many names, “shooting galleries” among the most derogatory. As implied by this pejorative, critics claim that safe injection sites make it possible for heroin addicts to continue abusing drugs.
Are Safe Injection Sites Treating Addiction?
Critics argue that safe injection sites normalize people to the concept of abusing substances. By facilitating drug use, they are accepting if not supporting its use. Although one may argue that they provide treatment options at the site, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen disagrees. In his words, “addictive drug injection site supporters argue that they provide “treatment” to drug users. But enabling those suffering from addiction to go to the brink of death is a dubious treatment. In fact, a health organization that manages injection sites in Canada estimated that only about 10% of its users enter treatment. ” Furthermore, critics remain justifiably skeptical that most users would elect to stay clean when provided a facility that allows them to shoot up with impunity.
Are Supervised Injection Sites Reducing Overdose Rates?
The primary goal of supervised injection sites is to reduce overdose deaths. While the site in Vancouver appears to have reduced overdose deaths in the surrounding neighborhood by at least 35%, other sites such as the Sydney MSIC, appear to yield no noticeable community impact whatsoever. Claims that safe consumption sites prevent overdose currently rely on conflicting data from a relatively small sample size. Therefore, it is not assured that such sites will reduce fatalities in the midst of the heroin epidemic.
Is Crime Decreasing or Increasing?
Some argue that concerning possible reductions in crime, safe injection sites present a flawed solution at best. Supervised injection sites do not provide users with drugs. The purchase and possession of these substances, specifically heroin, remains illegal. That being said, those who utilize safe injection sites must still break the law in pursuit of their drug of choice. Additionally, safe consumption sites attract illegal drug dealers to sell drugs proximal to its areas. Therefore, one can assume that the sites will only increase crime rates in the surrounding area.
Local governments that try to authorize safe injection sites may find themselves on the wrong side of the law as well. One might recall the medical marijuana facilities raided by the federal government, despite being legal in California. Proposed safe injection sites in the United States would run a similar risk. When Mayor Svante Myrick of Ithaca desired to open a supervised injection site, he sought authorization from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. And when NPR reminded him that he could try to open the site without authorization as long as it was not directly refused, he responded:
“We’ve no interest in putting time and money into something that will get shut down later.”
The Costs of Safe Injection Sites
Safe injection sites are very costly. Some government officials in Canada believe that the $3 million used to operate the Vancouver facility should be going towards treatment. In fact, the Sydney MSIC in Australia costs enough to potentially fund four hundred treatment centers. While treatment centers will help individuals fight the addiction, supervised injection sites are only aiding the drug abusers to maintain their addiction without overdosing or spreading diseases. Therefore, many believe that these sites are a misuse of government funding.
Safe Injection Sites – Are They Worth It?
In summary, supervised injection sites are a controversial topic. While the pros may include reduced rates of disease, overdose, and crime, there is no sufficient evidence to guarantee this assumption. On the contrary, critics point out that supervised injection sites normalize addiction, increase crime rates, and are a misuse of government funding. It may not be an ideal solution.
In the meantime, we must focus on solutions already on the table. We must focus on increasing funding for treatment centers, as well as local outreach programs such as Operation HOPE. Education, awareness and – most importantly – addiction treatment remain the best solutions we can offer those who struggle with heroin addiction.
If you’re interested in seeking addiction treatment, reach out to one of our addiction specialists right away. At Avenues Recovery, there are plenty of treatment options available. We will provide you with the information and resources you need to make informed decisions. Take a look at our variety of drug treatment programs and learn more about the most recent research by giving us a call.
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