Philadelphia city officials have concocted a controversial plan to deal with opioid crisis devastating the city. Within the next few months, so-called “safe injections sites” will be erected, locations where drugs users can inject themselves without fear of arrest.
The injection sites will be run by the city and under the direct management of medical professionals. Users will have access to clean needles, overdose medication, and treatment information.
It’s a sign of how desperate things have become that the government is getting into the business of providing clean needles for drug addicts. The drug epidemic gripping country took people by surprise, no one expected the death toll to rise so rapidly.
Traditional methods aren’t working. “Just say no” is no longer applicable. Opioid abuse is growing at an alarming rate because doctors are the new drug dealers. People who would never have been tempted to inject themselves with heroin are being prescribed massive doses of painkillers after legitimate injuries and becoming addicted.
“There’s a lot of lives being lost,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said, “and that is something that, in the world of public safety, we certainly cannot just throw up our hands up and say, ‘That’s not my problem.'”
Still, it’s not clear that legal injections sites are the answer. Opponents fear that providing clean needles to drug abusers is akin to endorsing heroin use.
David Oh, a Philadelphia city councilman, complained: “I don’t see this as a well thought-out, practical plan… I don’t know how they would possibly get past zoning. Who is going to ensure liability for those private investors?”
President Trump has made it clear that battling the drug crisis is one of his administration’s top priorities. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, has indicated that his department seeks to implement a tough anti-drug stance, a slight reversal from Barack Obama and Former Attorney General Eric Holder’s leniency.
Injection site proponents argue that peer-reviewed studies of such facilities found that they were associated with fewer deaths from drug overdoses and lower rates of infection among users.
The sole, stand-alone injection site in North America exists in Vancouver. Called Insite, the location has been in operation for almost 15 years.
“Each day 700 users come in, get clean needles, choose a stall and shoot up their drugs. Out of millions of visits to the supervised injection center, there have been over 4,000 overdoses — but no deaths,” Today wrote in a piece examining Insite.
One of the center’s former patients described how he had been saved. “I was on this floor, right here, lying right here,” he recalled. “And a nurse, through her interventions, brought me back to life. And it was after that, that I made the decision to seek treatment options and change my life. When I was ready, they were here to help me.”
Philadelphia isn’t the only city planning to build injection sites. San Francisco has already approved plans to go forward with the erection of at least a few centers and New York City politicians are considering a similar plan.
“We cannot just watch as our children, our parents, our brothers, and our sisters die of drug overdose,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, Philadelphia Health Commissioner. “We have to use every proven tool we can to save their lives until they recover from the grip of addiction.”
Philadelphia experienced an alarming spike in the number of drug overdose deaths in the last few years. “If we can avoid going up to 1,500 deaths… that will be a victory in itself,” Sam Gulino, the city medical examiner, said last year.
Experts predict that Philadelphia’s injection sites will save a few dozen lives a year.
“We’ve got very promising evidence from other sites and other countries that show this is a piece of the broader strategy to keep people safe,” Dr. Sarah Wakeman, medical director of the Substance Use Disorder Initiative and the Addiction Consult Team at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said.