Overdose prevention sites can save lives | READER COMMENTARY
For The Baltimore Sun|
Mar 09, 2020 at 3:40 PM
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this letter to the editor contained an incorrect figure for the number of Americans killed in vehicle crashes each year. The Sun regrets the error.
We would like to express support for Kevin Lindamood’s recent commentary regarding the proposed bills in the Maryland House and Senate (House Bill 464 and Senate Bill 990) (“Give people a place to use drugs safely,” March 3). My colleagues and I, teams of medical students, physicians and advocates, witness the consequences of drug addiction far too often, including widespread infections, psychological trauma and overdose deaths. We believe these consequences are preventable.
The proposed bills would allow the Maryland Department of Health to approve up to six overdose prevention sites (OPS). These are supervised facilities that provide a safe place to consume pre-obtained drugs with sterile needles, administer first aid and provide access to resources for addiction treatment and disease prevention.
These sites are a form of crisis intervention where people who use drugs are treated like human beings and met with safety, support and health care services including resources from peer and substance abuse specialists. They are likened to wearing seat belts while driving to reduce harm in a car accident. While car accidents kill over 37,000 Americans per year, asking people to stop driving is not feasible. Similarly, an OPS can reduce the harmful effects of drug use and save lives.
For example, Insite, an OPS founded in Vancouver in 2003, has had over 3.6 million visits, 48,798 clinical interventions (such as wound care and pregnancy tests), 6,440 overdose interventions and 0 fatalities. The site also dropped the HIV and Hepatitis C incidence and helped hundreds of people enter detox treatment programs.
Not only is the status quo not working, past policies have caused disproportionate harm to racial and ethnic minority communities. As a society, we need to support interventions that keep people who use drugs alive and prevent the spread of infectious disease. We don’t want to lose 2,000 more parents, siblings or friends in Maryland to opioid overdose this year.
As doctors and public health professionals, our mission is to save lives. Harm reduction initiatives like overdose prevention sites are proven to do just that. Community organizations like BRIDGES and Healthcare for the Homeless have already expressed willingness to operate lifesaving sites in Maryland and they should be able to. If you agree, please contact your legislators and ask them to support the bills.
Leslie Gailloud, Marie Ezran, John Clifton, Jack Peng, Aishwarya Iyer, and Srikar Adibhatla, Baltimore
The writers are University of Maryland medical students. The letter was also signed by Erica Weiss of the Maryland Public Health Association and Dr. Richard Bruno of MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society.