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Harm Reduction Coalition Calls for Removal of Legal Barriers in Response to Successful Trial of An Unsanctioned Supervised Injection Facility in US

Photo © Drugreporter – Rights Reporter Foundation

August 8th, 2017
For immediate release
Contact: Daniel Raymond, Harm Reduction Coalition
(212) 377-9121 raymond@harmreduction.org

Scientific research published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine  on one of the first unsanctioned supervised injecting facilities in the country highlights the public health and community safety benefits of safer drug consumption services (SCS). In response to these findings Harm Reduction Coalition calls for the removal of all legal barriers that impede the implementation of these innovative services to address the nation’s overdose crisis.

While overdose rates continue to climb across the nation, we cannot afford to dismiss safer consumption services as a policy option. They provide an important tool to save lives, improve community safety, and a new gateway to health care, counseling, and treatment,” said Harm Reduction’s Deputy Director of Planning and Policy, Daniel Raymond.

The facility, which opened in an undisclosed urban environment in late 2014 after more than a year of planning and preparation, found that if not for the facility attendees would have injected in a park, public restroom, street, or other public location. Over the course the facility’s two-year operation it was found to have prevented more than 2,300 instances of drug injection in public and 1,725 cases of injection equipment disposed in public.

While the facility is the first of its kind in the United States, more than 100 similar facilities exist across 11 different countries. Canada, which is also grappling with record numbers of fatal opioid overdoses, has recently begun expanding the number of facilities in operation throughout the country. In the US, a number of states and cities have been making steps toward authorizing safer consumption spaces. Seattle and surrounding King County, Washington jointly approved a plan to create SCS in late 2016. State legislation has been introduced in California, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont, and other local efforts are underway in numerous cities including Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Ithaca, New York City, and San Francisco. The implementation of SCS have developed into a national conversation; the American Medical Association (AMA) endorsed the idea of a pilot earlier this summer. As the overdose death toll rises, public health officials, advocates, researchers, and people who use drugs from across the country have been developing strategies to implement these services.

In 2015 Harm Reduction Coalition convened a consultation with international law enforcement and public health experts on safer consumption services and the resulting report found:

  • people who use safer consumption services take better care of themselves, reduce or eliminate their needle sharing, use their drugs more safely, and ultimately reduce their drug use;
  • SCS participants gain access to other medical and social services and entry into drug treatment;
  • There has not been a single overdose death in any of these programs over many years of operation and millions of supervised of injections;
  • SCS do not increase drug use in the area, nor do they encourage young people to initiate drug use;
  • Crime and public nuisance decrease in the areas around these programs.

Taeko Frost, Harm Reduction Coalition’s Western Regional Director, says “There are thousands of consumption sites across the United States – public restrooms, libraries, parks, alleys – but they’re unsupervised and unsafe. We applaud the staff at the undisclosed site described in the article for their life-saving work and demand that elected officials demonstrate the same courage by supporting this evidence-based intervention to save lives.”

With today’s publication in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the lesson learned is the time for debate on the efficacy of SCS in improving health and community safety is over. As the opioid overdose crisis shows no signs of slowing, all evidence-based and innovative strategies need to be seriously considered.  It is time for local, state, and federal governments to remove all legal barriers to SCS so that overdoses can be prevented, lives saved and community safety improved.

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