Before we look at the solution that was created within our group I looked at solutions that already exist and specifically Safe Injection Houses. What is a Safe Injection House? A Safe Injection House is a location usually within highly populated areas that is a clean sheltered place for heroin and cocaine addicts to take drugs. They are staffed by certified medical personnel and are legally sanctioned by the city and state government. The goal is to help eliminate health risks involved with injecting drugs. If they choose to take drugs at a safe Injection House the drug will be administered by medical personnel and then the needle can be properly cleaned and used again. This reduces as much of the health risks as possible and reduces waste. Obviously this doesn’t negate the effects of taking heroin or cocaine, but it does ensures that they do not overdose and can even begin recovering.
Where are Safe Injection Houses used? Currently Safe Injection Houses are not used in the United States. However they are used all over the world. Berne, Switzerland created the first Supervised Drug Consumption Room(SDCR) in 1986. In fact Switzerland has been a leader in fighting heroin abuse. Other European countries soon followed suite. Today there are multiple SDCRs run by cities in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, France, Canada and Thailand. Even now more and more countries are considering creating these SDCRs in their own countries. Seattle is one of the leading American cities considering building a Safe Injection House.
Will America begin creating SDCRs or Safe Injection Houses? Currently NYC is committing to funding a 100,00 dollar study to Supervised Injection Facilities(SFIs). They state that the reason for this is because of the steady rise of heroin related deaths each year and that it is something people are much more open to in recent times. The city council has not yet released a timeline for that study.
Also, much closer to home, Seattle has been looking into SFIs and recently an opioid task force recommended multiple SFI’s in King County including one in Seattle itself. Seattle has a huge heroin problem, one of the worst in the nation. Sadly it was found that just in 2014 one hundred and fifty-six deaths were caused by heroin. Right now more young people are entering detox for heroin than alcohol. The task force recommended raising awareness of heroin problems as well as creating two pilot SFIs. Though it is important to note that they didn’t estimate the cost of these facilities nor do we know whether or not this will get by federal law. If cost and federal law don’t get in the way and these facilities do actually open then Seattle will become the object of attention for major cities like Portland, San Francisco and NYC who are also considering this route in combating heroin deaths. It could be a costly mistake or it could make Seattle a leader in combating heroin abuse.
However Seattle must first consider if these sites actually work effectively. First of all we need to understand the goals of a facility like this. Their goal is not to rehabilitate addicts, the goal is to reduce the amount of overdoses, overdose related deaths and disease related to self injection. Currently just a few miles to the north of us in Vancouver there is a SFI in operation called Insite. Insite has been the cause of much controversy in North America, but has continued to operate since 2003. By now we can see some of the results of their labor. The clinic is a long room with brightly lit mirrored booths and is manned by calm confident individuals that ensure everyone’s safety. The City of Vancouver fully supports Insite’s work but Canada’s federal government strongly disagrees with SFIs. Because of this multiple studies have been conducted regarding Insite’s effectiveness
Dr. Thomas Kerr who is from the B.C. centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS has looked into Insite’s effect on the area around it. Kerr states, “In the immediate area around Insite, the 40-block area around the facility, there’s been a 35-per-cent decline in overdose deaths and people who use Insite on a regular basis are 30 per cent more likely to enter addiction treatment.” This is great news! These sites are also proven to lower HIV and Hepatitis C in users. So, SFIs lower disease and death among users. They might even help with the rehabilitation process. However, they do not stop the use of heroin, the effect of heroin or illegal heroin traffic.
Should cities like Seattle use Safe Injection Sites? I think that they should, but not by themselves. If a city plans on using SFIs they should incorporate an awareness program linked to the Safe Use House and then linked to rehabilitation centers.
Written By: Isaac Waggoner
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