Experience a Safer Injection Facility

By Zachary Siegel 12/03/15

Projected on to the SIF's outside fabric will be video of people shooting up in unsanitary settings. “Every visitor will experience directly the stark contrast between public injection and SIF injection.”

Experience a Safer Injection Facility
via Author

Here is what happens when a sociologist and an architect team up for public health activism.

A radical yet stylish exhibit was unveiled at the 2015 International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Washington D.C.

Funded by a special opportunities grant from the Drug Policy Alliance, Chicago-based sociologist and artist Greg Scott, along with architect-designer Andrew Santa Lucia, are the creatives behind the SAFE SHAPE exhibit, a sleek “pop-up” Safe Injection Facility (SIF). 

In Greg Scott’s office at DePaul University, where unlike your typical tenured professor there is a fishbowl stuffed with syringes on desk, he tells me his reason for spearheading the project. 

“The exhibit was constructed to project an image of reason and science and rationality. It’s a commitment to humanistic enterprises without taking cues from repressive and stigmatizing institutions, and without resorting to a defensive posture.”


Greg Scott (left) Andrew Santa Lucia (right) via Sawbuck Productions


Its design is interactive, meant for visitors to experience not only what SIFs can do, but to feel the humanness of injection drug users, who, through social power, sport a deeply undesired label in American culture. Hence, the exhibits key messages are to wit:

  • This is a place you can trust and a place where you are trusted.
  • This is a place where you can feel safe and be safe and not be stigmatized for using drugs.
  • Nothing about this place (or about you) is pathological or abnormal.
  • This is a legitimate, socially acceptable space in which to receive assistance in promoting your own well-being.
  • This is a place that cares deeply about you. 
  • This is a place where the provision of assistance to you derives from rigorous scientific research.
  • This is a place where the complex beauty of all human life is allowed to flourish.

Where others see a disease needing to be arrested, the SAFE SHAPE team sees beauty. Projected on to the SIF's outside fabric will be video of people shooting up in unsanitary settings. “Every visitor will experience directly the stark contrast between public injection and SIF injection,” Scott told The Fix, “and, ideally, walk away feeling even more supportive of the SIF as a public health measure.”


via Greg Scott / Sawbuck Productions


Let’s do a virtual walkthrough. The video below is of the first room you’d enter, the supply station, where one can obtain all the fixings to safely prepare an injection: syringes, cotton, cooker, alcohol swabs, clean water, tourniquet, and a Partridge in a pear tree. For the exhibit, a tablet will be playing video of a man collecting his kit.



The next room is the station in which the user actually prepares the injection. As you can see, there is an adjustable lamp on the desktop, which is a mirror, along with another mirror, so the user has no blindspots. Without proper lighting and visibility, users are limited in terms of which veins they can access, resulting in using the same ones over and over again. The overuse of a vein can cause it to collapse.  




The next room is what the SAFE SHAPE team refers to as “the chill room.” Whereas the first two rooms may look clinical, “the chill room will be lit warmly by LED fixtures and will offer up brightly colored inflatable furniture,” Scott said.  



The photo above is what makes SIFs unique. If you’re a user fixing behind a dumpster, there will likely be no one there to support you. Dan Bigg, the man chatting with the user, kicking back in the chill room, is co-founder of the Chicago Recovery Alliance. 

Bigg is being awarded at the conference for his life-saving work, relentlessly distributing naloxone—the opioid overdose reversal drug—to anyone who needs it. He practices harm reduction in Chicago and around the world and took back the word “recovery” and redefined it as “any positive change.” 

Below is a mini-counseling session, where an experienced health care practitioner and addict-advocate such as Bigg can lend an ear. That can mean a referral to detox or treatment, or simply to make sure the user practices safe injections outside the facility. 



This exhibit, as I see it, is the artistic expression of a growing movement in America. Activist groups in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New York are banding together, exposing the need for IV users to have a safe place to fix their drugs. There are over 100 SIFs in operation worldwide, yet none in the United States, despite overwhelming evidence demonstrating their ability to save lives. 

A 2011 study published in The Lancet found fatal overdoses near a SIF called InSite, located in Vancouver, Canada, decreased by 35% since 2003. Other investigations of InSite found reductions in blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, saving $6 million per year in health care costs. See the Drug Policy Alliance’s “Supervised Injection Facility Fact Sheet” for more benefits. 

Unlike Denmark, Switzerland, or the Netherlands, countries with active SIFs, it’s taboo in America to simply let people do their drugs. So the SIF movement, as I see it, is a resistance against the implicit moral assumptions on which contemporary American medicine operates.The medical establishment is a worthy opponent, given their puritanical slights against deviants, against drug users, against all those who deviate too far from the statistical norm. Unlike medicine, SIFs do not have a goal of normativity in sight, they simply let people be safe. 


Ann Tartakoff


Andrew Santa Lucia, activist and design-architect on the project, expanded on his activist philosophy of SIFs. He told The Fix that, “Ideally, these SIFs become conventional, and a potentially boring part of our hopeful future. But in this moment, you need to be vocal, you need to be active, you need to be out.” He concluded that high design can be effectively loud, and has carved out a space to operate in the SIF movement. 

Along with the exhibit, the SAFE SHAPE team will be providing education sessions throughout the conference, informing attendees of the benefits of SIFs. They will focus on reduction of disease, overdose prevention, and other forms of positive change. With education, knowledge, and social capital, the United States may see SIFs in its near future. 

Zachary Siegel is a regular contributor to The Fix. 

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.