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Safe Injection Sites | What They Are & How They Work

Safe injection sites are controlled areas where people can inject legal or illicit drugs in controlled conditions. They are also known as supervised injection sites, safe injection facilities (SIFs), and supervised consumption facilities.

Safe drug injection sites can reduce the risk of getting bloodborne diseases from shared needles. They can also reduce the risk of a fatal overdose since clinicians are often on-site in case of an emergency.

Drug overdose deaths have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, making harm reduction for substance use more necessary than ever.

Safe injection sites have been met with controversy in the United States, but they can be a sign of hope for people struggling with mental health issues and drug addiction.

What Is A Safe Injection Site?

Supervised injection sites are a harm reduction method that can make substance use less dangerous.

Long-term sobriety is not always a realistic goal, especially for patients with severe substance use disorders. Safe injection sites can help patients who are not ready for intensive treatment.

Patients may go through cycles of relapse and recovery, and not every person is in a position to get treatment at all times. Even if a person is not getting treated, they could still benefit from supervised, safer injecting with better access to healthcare.

Supervised injection facilities are often paired with syringe exchange programs, so people can access clean injection equipment. Clean needles reduce the chances of contracting bloodborne diseases, like hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS.

SIFs do not provide legal or illegal drugs for patients to abuse.

How Safe Injection Sites Work

Insite, the first approved safe injection site in North America, started its harm reduction program in 2003. Their health services set a precedent for future safe injection sites, in Canada and other countries.

On-site clinicians can give interventions or provide life-saving overdose treatment, like giving naloxone to people showing opioid overdose symptoms. They may also include:

  • on-site clinical care
  • overdose prevention and first response
  • respectful, tolerant environments for people of all backgrounds
  • needle exchange programs
  • referrals to addiction treatment programs

Safe injection sites may be public health services from the federal government, or they may be private non-profit or for-profit programs. Peer-reviewed research for early SIFs suggests they prevent fatalities while being cost-effective for healthcare programs.

Controversy Of Safe Injection Sites

The first safe injection site in the Western world was established in Vancouver, Canada in 2003, but the rest of North America did not follow suit right away.

As of 2021, there are supervised consumption sites in Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, and other developed countries, but none in the United States as of this writing.

SIFs have been proposed in cities like San Francisco and New York City but did not get approval from their respective governments. In 2020, spikes in opioid overdose deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic caused the federal government to reconsider safe injection sites.

Detractors may argue that safe spaces encourage drug abuse and that SIFs cannot be a part of effective drug policies.

On the other hand, advocates of controlled sites cite lower rates of overdose deaths in the area, lower risks of sharing needles, and higher rates of people looking for addiction treatment.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

The opioid crisis is still a cause for concern in the United States, especially with the ongoing pandemic causing anxiety and stress. Fentanyl is a growing cause of concern, with high rates of abuse, dependency, and fatal overdose.

While safe injection sites approved under federal law do not yet exist in the U.S., other resources can refer patients to drug treatment programs where they can commit to long-term sobriety, go through medical detox, and receive high-quality treatment.

To learn about our addiction treatment program, please contact us today.

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