When we think of intravenous drug use, the word ‘safe’ might not necessarily come to mind. But for anybody addicted to injecting drugs, safe injection sites are a haven in an otherwise chaotic world.
America’s opioid crisis exploded over the past two decades. Now, two out of every three overdose deaths are attributed to opioids. These include illicit (street) opiates like heroin and black tar, prescription drugs like morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and synthetics like methadone, fentanyl, and hydromorphone.
At the state level, things are not much better. This November, state officials in Massachusetts reported an increase in opioid overdose deaths over the same month in 2019. This rise coincides with the coronavirus pandemic, proving that COVID continues to impact every aspect of health and wellbeing.
But there is a small glimmer of hope. In May, a Massachusetts legislative committee approved a bill that would legalize safe injection sites for drug users and initiated a ten-year pilot project to see two locations opened in the state.
A safe injection site provides a space for users to inject drugs without fear of arrest or legal repercussions. This temporary immunity is paired with access to a clean environment, sterilized injection supplies, and medical personnel nearby to monitor the users’ condition.
This approach seeks to reduce but not eliminate the risk of harm. According to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, decriminalization strategies “grounded in science, health, security, and human rights” are the way forward.
How Injection Sites Save Lives
There’s no doubt about it. Safe injection sites protect some of Massachusetts’ most vulnerable. Aside from the typical dangers of using drugs, intravenous drug users face additional health risks due to cleanliness. Sharing needles is extremely risky due to the possible transmission of hepatitis C, HIV, and other blood-borne diseases. Despite this risk, most addicts do it because they have no other way of procuring supplies.
Beyond that, opioids are extremely risky to use, especially when the user is alone. Because street drugs are unregulated, there is no way to know what you’re buying. If a drug user has an adverse reaction or overdoses, there is usually no one around to assist them. Intervention during an overdose could save a life, and yet bystanders may hesitate to call for help, fearing they’ll be associated with illegal activity. Safe injection sites address these concerns because they are medically supervised by individuals trained to administer Narcan and other life-saving treatments.
Last but not least, the stigma of drug use is as lethal as the drugs themselves. Those who oppose safe injection sites may believe that they are encouraging use, but the truth is, saying, “don’t do drugs” has never worked. Shame and stigma don’t stop drug use; they simply force users into dark corners, away from society’s judgment.
Safe injection sites are about mitigating risk where possible. They remind drug users that they are human and deserve a safe place to go when they are in their darkest moments. Addiction does not make your life matter less. In truth, it can happen to anybody. If healing is to happen, empathy must be present.
Landmark Recovery is proud to offer wellness services to those in need. Choosing sobriety is never easy, but having the right support makes it easier. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, reach out today. We’re here for you, and we genuinely care.