Safe injection sites, also referred to as overdose prevention centers, are facilities that provide oversight for individuals struggling with opioid use disorder. These individuals routinely inject illicit substances and are at a heightened risk of overdose, especially now in the era of fentanyl poisoning. Continue reading to learn more about safe injection sites.
What are safe injection sites?
A safe injection site is exactly what the term implies — a facility that provides medical oversight for individuals that are active heroin users. The purpose of the centers is to provide supplies to these individuals, and to observe their vital signs after the injection.
Fentanyl has contaminated the heroin supply, which has dramatically increased overdose deaths nationwide. At the safe injection sites, medical workers are equipped with naloxone (known commercially as Narcan) to reverse an overdose should one occur.
At the present time, safe injection sites are still not legal in the United States. There are some countries that have legalized these centers, such as Canada, which did so in 2003. However, there are some safe injection sites in operation, like in New York City.
How do safe injection sites work?
The safe injection sites work in this way: The individual arrives at the center and collects their needed supplies. They proceed to inject the substance while outdoors, and then enter the facility to be seated on a comfortable sofa with staff members present in the room. These medical workers observe the individual, looking for any signs of respiratory distress.
If the individual becomes very sleepy or is breathing too slowly, they are prepared to administer the naloxone if needed. Naloxone can quickly reverse the respiratory distress, and save the person’s life.
The proponents of safe injection sites support the concept because they can help reduce harm by stopping an overdose in its tracks. They also point to the fact that, because the centers provide clean needles, fewer people are sharing needles. This reduces the risk of spreading HIV/AIDS and hepatitis infections.
The pros and cons of safe injection sites
Safe injection sites continue to be controversial. There are obvious benefits for harm reduction, however, few communities are excited to host a safe injection site.
The pros and cons of safe injection sites include:
- They reduce the risk of overdose deaths.
- They reduce the spread of communicable diseases.
- They provide access to health and social services.
- They provide individuals with opioid use disorder a safe place to administer the substance.
- They reduce the prevalence of unsanitary needle disposal in the community.
- They increase the potential to guide individuals into treatment.
- They may attract crime to the surrounding area.
- They may encourage continued substance use.
- They may challenge federal laws on substance abuse due to a lack of legal consequences for injecting illicit drugs.
- The studies on existing safe injection sites are considered to be flawed and biased.
The jury is still out as to whether safe injection sites are beneficial in the ongoing fight against substance use disorder. However, if these facilities can guide individuals who are ready to quit the substance toward needed treatment, then that is a good reason to continue the conversation.