On a busy street in Brooklyn, New York, there’s a shop where people line up to use the bathroom. It’s not because it’s in a particularly convenient location or because the store itself is so popular – instead, they’re waiting for a chance to inject drugs while monitored by intercom.
San Francisco, Seattle, and Philadelphia are considering opening safe injection sites, also called supervised injection sites, which are public health facilities where people who wish to use illegal drugs can inject them under the supervision of trained healthcare providers. This is actually not legal in the United States, although there are about 100 sanctioned sites in 11 countries around the world, mostly in Europe, Australia, and Canada. The U.S. cities are currently fighting legal battles to be allowed to begin these programs, but the Drug Enforcement Administration is against the idea. According to the DEA, these facilities would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Opponents of these sites argue that we are condoning drug use or giving injection drug users free rein to do what they want, but experts say that supervised injection – especially in conjunction with needle exchange programs – can save lives. By providing a clean environment, these facilities reduce the risk of infections like hepatitis and HIV. When needles can be properly disposed of, there’s less concern about a member of the public accidentally handling one. It’s also a way to prevent overdoses. In sites with medical professionals on hand, help is all but immediate.
In the case of the Brooklyn bathroom, since they aren’t providing any needles and the site isn’t technically just for drug injection, they’ve managed to avoid the legal fight. Each person is allowed ten minutes to do what the need to do, but after three minutes a staff member will check in via intercom. If there’s no response, the employee can unlock the door from the outside and enter with overdose reversal medication in hand. In the eight years this policy has been in place, a few people have overdosed in the bathroom, but none have died.
At a more formal supervised injection site, sterile syringes, alcohol swabs and other items would be provided. As people injected themselves, staffer members would watch for signs of trouble and intervene with overdose-reversing drugs if needed. The workers are meant to be helpful and non-judgmental, but they can offer information about receiving treatment and other help if needed. These are community-based responses to the drug epidemic, usually located in areas where there is a particular problem with drug use, such as inner city or other poor neighborhoods. There is also some evidence that use of these facilities is associated with an increase in both detoxification and drug dependence treatment.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504.