None were known to exist in the United States until a recent report in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, wherein two researchers disclosed that they’d been evaluating an underground safe injection site that has been operating in the U.S. since 2014.
As a condition of their research, they did not disclose the location, which is not sanctioned and therefore illegal. They also did not name the social service agency running it.
While the researchers supplied little data, according to Time magazine, their main finding was that no one died while injecting at the site; although, there were two overdoses, immediately reversed by staff members with naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan.
Advocates and some politicians have called for government-sanctioned injection sites as the country deals with a devastating opioid epidemic, in which over 52,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2015, fueled by prescription painkiller and heroin abuse.
The recent president’s opioid commission found that there are approximately 142 deaths each day from drug overdoses, which means the death toll is “equal to September 11th every three weeks.”
Although the president’s commission failed to mention cannabis as a viable remedy for pain relief, some analysts believe that the report might encourage efforts to establish safe injection sites around the country.
Canada recently announced that it is intending to decriminalize drugs and will promote supervised injection sites nationwide.
Vermont is also pondering safe injection sites, which have been backed by lawmakers in New York and California, as well as in cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Ithaca, New York.
“It shows people that it’s possible” to operate one of these in the U.S., said Lindsay LaSalle, an attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance, who has helped draft safe haven legislative proposals in six states.
Injection sites are legal in some countries including Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland, where medical professionals monitor drug users and also provide clean needles to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like HIV or hepatitis C.
Vermont State Attorney General Sarah George said the prospect of injections sites sounded scary at first, but that she has a duty to look at all options.
“Sometimes those scarier thoughts or scarier programs are the ones that make the most difference,” George said.
She concluded that safe injection sites could potentially be a second chance for people who want to be productive members of the community.
“These individuals do not want to be committing crimes, they don’t want to be sitting in jail, they don’t want to be getting felony convictions and they certainly don’t want to end up another fatal overdose statistic,” said George.