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Safe Injection Sites in the United States


Katelyn Newman, staff writer for US News, recently wrote about the possible benefits and disadvantages of establishing safe injection sites to combat the opioid crisis. Newman explains that injection sites provide a sterile space for previously obtained drugs to be used under the supervision of medical professionals. This would provide users with education on safe drug use, quick medical response to overdose, and easy access to recovery treatment if requested (Newman, 2018). While none of these facilities currently exist in the United States, there are one hundred legal injection sites around the world. Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York City, Portland, Maine, and Ithaca, “all have considered opening or allowing one, despite the threat of likely legal action by the federal government,” Newman writes (2018). San Francisco may be the first state to establish a safe injection site, with facilities opening as early as this summer.

Newman cites Jay Butler, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ chief medical officer, who “says he’s unsure if the evidence surrounding safe injection sites shows an actual, overall shift toward decreasing drug use and increasing treatment access” (Newman, 2018). While safe-use sites may or may not decrease drug use, he does respect their efficacy as a “harm-reduction tool.” Butler continues, “It’s intriguing in terms of doing something to save lives, but . . . it’s a tourniquet. A gunshot wound to the leg, you put a tourniquet on it, but you don’t then walk away and say, ‘Hey, good luck with that.’ You get people into definitive care. We’re talking about things that will save lives, but they’re not solving that person’s problem, much less the larger public health issue” (Newman, 2018).

Newman outlines the legal restrictions of establishing safe-use sites. These facilities break federal law because of the “Crack House Statute,” which makes it illegal to open and maintain a place specifically for the use of controlled substances. Clients of the facility would be “testing the federal prohibition on illicit drug possession,” she writes (Newman, 2018). The US Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont has warned that “opening the sites would expose users, site workers, and overseers to criminal charges, and could result in ‘federal forfeiture’ of the venues themselves” (Newman, 2018).

Shilo Murphy, founder of Urban Survivors Union, The People’s Harm Reduction Alliance, and activist for the establishment of a Seattle-based injection site, remains unafraid of these legal barriers. He believes safe consumption sites are “a piece of the puzzle that means fewer people dying from fatal overdoses.” Murphy explains, “the idea that we would choose not to use a piece of the puzzle has always surprised me.” He summarizes the debate, “It’s around the drug war, and you’re basically saying, ‘This place was trying to save people’s lives and stop overdoses, but the federal government wants these people to die.’ That becomes the narrative, and I think that’s a hard narrative for the feds to go with, because the data . . . and the science is really behind safe-consumption rooms” (Newman, 2018).

Whether these sites are enabling users and normalizing drug use, or preventing overdose and encouraging recovery, it is likely that they will soon be coming to the United States.

Newman, K. (2018). Injecting a solution. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2018-04-03/as-donald-trump-calls-for-war-on-drugs-a-push-for-safe-injection-sites.