More Cities and States Are Considering Safe Injection Sites

By Kelly Burch 01/12/18

Currently there are 90 safe injection sites around the world, but there are none in the United States.

insite in vancouver
the safe consumption room inside Vancouver's Insite

With the opioid epidemic showing little sign of letting up and traditional approaches to deterring drug use proving ineffective, more cities and states are considering legalizing safe injection sites, places where people can inject drugs with clean needles and medical staff on hand in the case of an overdose or other emergency. 

"Supervised injection sites are a form of harm reduction," said Larry Krasner, the new district attorney in Philadelphia, according to NPR. The city is considering the possibility of a safe injection site for its Kensington neighborhood, where some of the most powerful and deadly opioids in the country can be purchased. 

One 39-year-old man who travels to Kensington to use drugs, said that he would certainly take advantage of a safe space to use drugs. "I would absolutely go there," he said. "Every shot—you never know what's going to happen. It can always be your last one.”

He added that having a safe injection site would also benefit residents who aren’t using drugs. "People are not going to be shooting up on your front stoop or in your backyard, hiding. It will cut down on people dying in abandoned houses around here,” he said.

NPR reports that there are 90 safe injection sites around the world, but there are none in the United States—none that are legal, anyway. However, more government officials are considering the measure. 

In Seattle, officials are studying how a safe injection site might affect drug use and deaths. Dr. Jeff Duchin, the health officer for King County (which includes Seattle) said that the measure can save lives.

“In a nutshell, the idea is not really to give people a place to inject drugs and then go about their lives but really a way that they can inject safely off the street, out of doorways, out of alleyways—hygienic conditions to minimize their risk of infection, such as HIV; to minimize their risk of overdose and to minimize the stigmatization and social rejection that keeps a lot of these people out of the health care system in the first place,” he said. 

However, the measure has faced fierce opposition

Last summer in Massachusetts, members of the state’s medical society voted overwhelmingly to support the idea of safe injection sites. Denver and Vermont are also considering a site.

“The testimony today, it indicates that it may actually help to reduce the amount of opiates that folks are using, and anything that can reduce the demand, I’m all for at this point,” said Vermont state Senator Dick Sears, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.