One of the largest healthcare problems that the United States is fighting right now is the opioid crisis. The statistics show that people are dying at an alarming rate and everyone from President Trump to physicians to your neighbor down the street can agree that this is truly a crisis. It might be the only thing that the country can agree on right now. That being said, answers for combating this crisis vary significantly. One common solution that is slowly gaining traction is safe injection sites, providing medical oversight to drug users.
Safe injection sites are not a new concept and have been widely adopted in Canada, Europe and Australia. Safe injection sites provide clean medical supplies, mainly syringes, to drug users in an effort to ensure there is less of a risk for transmission of HIV and other disease. They also provide testing strips to ensure drugs do not contain other harmful chemicals. Finally, safe injection sites have medical personnel on site who are able to monitor for overdose and respond immediately if someone begins to have a negative response to drugs.
NPR recently reported on a group called the Church of Safe Injection who are providing clean syringes to drug users at their homes. They also provide Naloxone, commonly referred to as Narcan, which can reverse an opioid overdose. This organization has now spread to 8 states, although they are met with significant legal pushback, as it is illegal to provide syringes outside of a medical facility.
The most prominent opposition to these practices is of course the notion that they promote drug use. Many see them as providing an easy opportunity for people to use, as opposed to provide treatment options for users. This has been the overarching point of the current administration (and previous ones as well). This point cannot be taken lightly - many drug users even admit that the easy access to syringes and supplies makes use easier and they sometimes question if it limits their desire to quit.
However, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health that evaluates a facility in Australia, safe injection facilities have led to a decrease in needle sharing and improved treatment for overdose patients. Preliminary data shows that these programs can be successful in limiting disease transmission, preventing overdose deaths and providing a safe and clean environment for users. Most interesting, clients that used the safe injection facilities were 3 times more likely to seek drug treatment, especially when counselors were provided onsite.
Overall the opioid crisis is a complex problem with many interesting solutions being presented. Safe injection sites is just one response to a crisis that is going to require a lot of answers. Right now, it seems unlikely that the U.S. will be open to these facilities, although some cities have already expressed interest. More studies need to be done before these can be touted as a success, but it is a very interesting answer to a very complicated problem.
To read the NPR article on the Church of Safe Injection, click below:
To read the article on the scientific study on Safe Injection Facilities, click below: