As the opioid epidemic continues to devastate communities around the country, a new strategy is coming to the United States, even though it is currently against the law.
Supervised injection sites are spaces overseen by medical staff, where people have access to clean injection equipment when using drugs. Trained healthcare professionals at these sites provide visitors with treatment information, counseling, and access to medical care. Under federal law, however, these sites are considered illegal.
Despite the legalities, study after study has shown that safe injection sites reduce overdose deaths. Because medical teams are on site, they are equipped to intervene if any of the visitors has an overdose.1-3
“The people we house — tenants — are our community. We live with them and know them well,” said Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira Women’s Rescue in Vancouver and the first person to pioneer safe injection sites. “These aren’t random strangers. They have family and friends and relationships. The longer someone stays alive, the more likely they can get help.”
Currently, there are about 100 supervised injection sites spanning 11 different countries. San Francisco,4 Seattle,5 and Philadelphia6 are the first US cities moving forward with plans to open these facilities.
Because the concept of these sites is relatively new to the United States, there are a few misconceptions about safe injection sites, such as the idea that they bring more crime to the community or that they encourage people who never thought of using drugs before to start. So far, there are no claims to back up these theories. The sites actually increase the likelihood of someone connecting with treatment options.
For those US cities pioneering this new project, Abbott has some first-hand advice. “In the face of adversity, you have to remember that this is the right thing to do — it’s saving lives,” she said. “Stay strong and true to what we know is the right thing to do.”
- Ng J, Sutherland C, Kolber M. Does evidence support supervised injection sites? Can Fam Physician. 2017;63(11):865.
- Katz N, Leonard L, Wiesenfeld L, Perry JJ, Thiruganasambandamoorthy V, Calder L. Support of supervised injection facilities by emergency physicians in Canada. Int J Drug Policy. 2017;49:26-31.
- Gagnon M. It’s time to allow assisted injection in supervised injection sites. CMAJ. 2017;189(34):E1083-E1084.
- Knight H. SF Safe Injection Sites Expected to be First in Nation, Open Around July 1. San Francisco Chronicle. https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/SF-safe-injection-sites-expected-to-be-first-in-12553616.php. Updated February 6, 2018. Accessed May 9, 2018.
- Khazan O. Why Can’t Addicts Just Quit? The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/11/why-cant-addicts-just-quit/545552/. Published November 13, 2017. Accessed May 9, 2018.
- Gordon E. What’s Next for “Safe Injection” Sites in Philadelphia? National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/01/24/580255140/whats-next-for-safe-injection-sites-in-philadelphia. Published January 24, 2018. Accessed May 9, 2018.