With no end in sight to the epidemic that is now killing more people than firearms and car crashes, we need to start looking at ways to address it. Safe consumption sites are worth trying. Locking up users isn’t solving the problem, and not nearly enough are getting into treatment programs. Meanwhile, the spread of the highly potent synthetic drug fentanyl has radically increased the risk of accidental overdose among those who take street drugs.
A bill allowing a test safe injection facility, where addicts can self-administer illicitly obtained drugs, is on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown. He should sign it.
By The Times Editorial Board
Sep 12, 2018 | 7:05 AM
To make this intervention work, the federal government, which has warned states that such sites are illegal and has threatened to prosecute, also needs to come on board so clinicians and drug users won’t fear legal repercussions — a major impediment to opening safe use spaces. (This is what led to the lawsuit in Philadephia.)
The legislation does offer local legal protections to staff, drug users and property owners of the buildings where these sites would be located. Doctors couldn’t lose their state licenses, and drug users couldn’t be prosecuted or arrested by local authorities. But it would be better to get the endorsement of law enforcement as well, particularly in Baltimore; if police say they will continue arresting those using marijuana even though the state attorney’s office will no longer prosecute those cases, how would they treat safe injection sites?
Critics of consumption spaces argue that they would just promote more drug use or lead to an increase in crime. They picture open air drug markets where people use freely and carelessly.
In the last decade, deaths from opioids have quadrupled in Maryland, yet the state's legislature this year killed bills that could have saved lives.
By Mike Benusic
Apr 18, 2018 | 11:10 AM
But the evidence simply doesn’t show that. We’re not talking about the famed Hamsterdam drug den from The Wire. Various studies looking at the impact of such sites have found no link to crime and, in fact, documented many benefits.The Lankenau Institute for Medical Research found that the sites have helped reduce overdose deaths, blood-borne disease infections such as HIV and hepatitis, and public injections and other drug use where they have opened, according to a fiscal analysis of the legislation.
Safe consumption spaces allow medical professionals to step in and intervene when an apparent overdose is taking place, for instance by administering the overdose reversing drug Narcan. They can take care of medical issues, such as infections. And just as important, doctors, nurses and counselors can connect users to social services, mental health counseling, housing support and other services that might help addicts get their lives together and eventually off of drugs. Now, doctors don’t have a way to reach drug users unless they come for an appointment. This is not a population that frequently makes it to the doctor.
It takes time for substance users to build up the determination to quit. It is not as simple as stopping cold turkey, as many might think. We want to try and stabilize people’s lives and prevent them from overdosing until they come to that point.
Of course, these spaces would need to be carefully monitored. The Maryland legislation calls for some oversight of the facilities, which must collect and report detailed data, including how many people are treated, the number of needles and syringes distributed and details about any overdoses, or overdose reversals.
While sanctioning the use of drugs may seem extreme to some, it reflects the reality that drug abuse is a health issue, not a legal or moral one. Baltimore was a pioneer in harm reduction policies toward drug abuse a generation ago with its needle exchange program to reduce the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases among intravenous drug users. Safe consumption sites are the next step. We urge the General Assembly to allow this life-saving intervention.