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Will Safe Injection Sites Fuel America’s Opioid Epidemic?

Safe injection sites are exactly what they sound like— safe places where drug users can inject IV drugs. These sites, also known as “supervised injection sites,” “safe consumption sites,” and “safe injection clinics,” straddle the line of what is legal. A drug user simply need show up at a safe injection site to be given sterile needles and a clean place where they can get high off illegal drugs—generally opiates like heroin— under the supervision of health workers.

Safe injection sites have been used in Europe, Canada, and Australia for decades— there are approximately 100 supervised injection facilities (SIFs) in 66 cities around the world, according to the Drug Policy Alliance— and have been shown to be very effective, but where does that leave America, where even treatment for drug addiction, never mind the large and growing presence of deadly street drugs, remains largely unregulated? And do safe injection sites discourage drug users from seeking treatment?

America’s drug epidemic—the opioid crisis in particular— has reached such a level that officials of major cities, including New York, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, are publicly acknowledging that drug users in the throes of active addiction are going to continue to use if they don’t seek/want help.

Providing a safe, sterile means by which they can do so may keep the opioid-related death toll— at an all-time high, with more than 115 Americans dying of opioid overdose each day, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), and drug overdose deaths in 2016 numbering 63,000— down, as on-site medical professionals can administer medication in the event of overdose.

Co-establishing safe injection sites with needle exchange programs has the potential to limit the spread of infectious blood diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. Despite foreseeable benefits, many cities’ efforts to establish safe injection sites have been put on hold. Now, the U.S. plans to officially sanction these sites across the country.

In January 2017, Seattle became the first U.S. city to announce plans for a safe injection site. The proposal was met with heavy backlash, but Seattle announced in November that the city council would allocate $1.3 million to establish a site in the city.

In Philadelphia, where the Pennsylvania health department estimates there are 70,000 heroin users, city officials have found that a single safe injection site in the city could prevent up to 76 drug overdose deaths— Philadelphia has the country’s worst fatal overdose rate among big cities, according to the city’s mayor— every year and save between $12.5 and $75 million in associated overdose medical costs. The city, which recently closed two Kensington “heroin camps” of homelessness and IV drugs, expects to open its first safe injection site in 2019.

San Francisco hopes to open its first facility this year following extensive analysis. Ithaca, Denver, and Baltimore are also looking into opening safe injection facilities.

As of June 2018, one unsanctioned, invitation-only safe drug injection facility exists in the U.S., according to newly released data published by The Guardian. The site, opened in 2014, is operated by a social service agency in an undisclosed city, and researchers have said that staff have saved the lives of two users who have overdosed on-site.

The Drug Policy Alliance has found that safe injection sites may be used as a place to refer drug users to addiction treatment and increases uptake into treatment programs; reduces HIV and Hepatitis C risk behavior; successfully manages hundreds of overdoses and reduces drug-related overdose death rates; and more.


If you or a loved one has an opioid or other substance dependence, please reach out to us for help today. We offer treatment from detox to sober living, and our admissions team is available 24/7 at (877)-RECOVERY to answer your questions and help get you started on recovery.

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