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[ Science and Tech ]

Safe Injection Facilities Save Lives. So Why Aren’t We Using Them?

What Is A Safe Injection Facility?

Here is a place where the IV user can bring their drugs, be provided with clean works in a safe and sterile environment, and self-administer under the careful eyes of trained medical professionals armed with Narcan in case of an overdose. Here is a place where the life and safety of a drug user is considered to be of the utmost importance, where users are treated like human beings, whose lives have value.

Safe injection facilities, where they exist in other countries around the world, have proven track records of minimizing a multitude of dangers associated with IV drug use. InSite, Canada’s only SIF, located in Vancouver, boasts a record of zero fatalities in its thirteen years of existence. With access to clean syringes, alcohol swabs, and well-lit environments, the risk of contracting diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis C, endocarditis and septicemia dramatically decreases, as well as the risk of missed shots that can easily become abcesses.

Safe For the Addict, Safe For the Neighborhood

Areas to properly dispose of used syringes mean fewer dirty points left on playgrounds, in parks and public bathrooms, and along sidewalks, where the general public can end up with their own health put at risk. With constant supervision and readily available Narcan, users no longer need to inject alone, thus putting their lives at risk. Where SIFs exist, users can survive and even thrive. These sites regularly act as points of access to recovery programs, offering information on a variety of recovery methods, so when a user is prepared to slow down or stop, they can find the program that will best suit their individual needs. One form of treatment is not touted as superior to another, and no matter what method a person chooses—if indeed they’re ready to choose at all—no shaming occurs. These facilities are good for users and the surrounding communities. So why are we not seeing them here in the U.S.?

For Addicts to Survive, We Have To End the Stigma

Unfortunately, despite all the benefits these facilities offer, many people-users and non-users alike-believe it is more important to send a message that drugs are bad and dangerous than it is to save and improve lives. This is often the same crowd who fights against needle exchanges, methadone clinics, and any number of similar harm reduction strategies geared toward saving and improving lives. Opioid use has exploded over the past decade, yet some still believe our focus should be on shaming preventing “enabling” measures, and forcing users to hit that alleged “rock bottom.”

Heroin Addicts Are Human Beings, Too

There is only one true rock bottom, and it’s the one you don’t get to come back from. If we want to save our children, our parents, our friends, ourselves, we must abandon the notion of enabling in public health measures. We must start thinking in terms of lives saved, not habits abandoned. SIFs and other harm reduction measures are our best bet at ensuring users get a chance to survive to see the day when they’re ready to quit, but perhaps more importantly, they send the message that even if you are currently using, your life is valuable and worth saving. To implement strategies that do not demand a user quit before their lives become “worth something” sends a clear message that even people who use and have no intention of stopping anytime soon are human beings who deserve the best possible quality of life. That is the only way that we will effectively kill the stigma against addiction—by acting in ways that reflect the value of a person’s life, no matter what circumstances that life is in right now.

Get Off Your High Horse

So if you find yourself reading this and thinking “what a terrible idea,” take a moment and ask yourself: Why do I think this? Examine your motivation. If they do not include acknowledging that some people aren’t ready to stop using drugs, and that those same people deserve to live and be safe until they’re ready to stop, then you must also acknowledge your role in perpetuating the stigma and marginalization that causes ever greater numbers of drug users to suffer and die.

SIFs are harm reduction, and harm reduction saves lives. It’s time we as a society do our part to end the suffering and stigmatization of people who use drugs.