State governors and large city mayors are in a panic over the epidemic of opioid overdoses and deaths. They are budgeting vast sums of taxpayer dollars to fight it. Throwing money at jailing offenders and equipping millions of cops with naloxone to reverse overdose are politically safe policies, though they miss much of the problem.
It seems near impossible for the prohibitionists to get their heads around supervised injection facilities, though in dozens of examples around the world they save lives and taxpayer dollars as well. Their reaction: you want to help criminals shoot up to get high, enable them to keep their addictions going, and increase the tax burden on the rest of us to pay for it? You can’t be serious!
There are three /claims within that argument—all of them wrong. And, yes, our response should be, we are very serious.
Supervised injection facilities widely dispersed in areas of high opioid use would do much more and pay for themselves in health and law enforcement savings. They would save a lot of lives, too.
Here’s what’s wrong with the three claims:
1.Addicted clients of injection sites in Canada and Europe do not go there to get high. They go to prevent being drug sick. Researchers funded by our government have shown this, yet the prohibitionists seem unaware.. NIDA’s Director Volkow and her coauthors explained in a 2016 paper that the normal course of addiction progresses to tolerance and a need for the drug just to stave off the misery of withdrawal. Until they detox, they can’t get through the day without their injections. To them the drug has become medicine–no longer a source of pleasure.
2.Far from fostering addiction, these sites offer services in a way that promotes and fosters wellness. This has been well documented and reported. Dr. Brandon Marshall has an excellent video on You Tube. In the program at Vancouver, Canada, alone, thousands of its clients have been referred to rehab and many have succeeded in getting drug free. Allowing users a level of dignity and respect often starts them on a path to the better self-identity needed to move in that direction. They yearn to be worthy of that respect.
3.Meanwhile, far from being a burden on taxpayers, injection sites are staffed by nurses who help assure safe injections and quick emergency response when overdose happens. An article in MacLean’s echoes what numerous studies have shown. Among other things Vancouver’s HIV rate fell from Canada’s highest to one of the lowest. At Vancouver’s there have been 3 million injections with zero overdose deaths says Marshall. Reversing overdose alone saves money because it avoids the need for paramedics to roll, an ER doc to examine, or the county coroner’s services at the morgue. There is much more. Studies over a decade or more show crime in the area surrounding the site is reduced, reckless use is reduced, Health care and law enforcement costs are saved. Plus, as Marshall states more people are heading for rehab and taking themselves out of the underworld drug market.
Ultimately, of course, we need an effective system of controlling drugs against access by minors. It is among them that more than 90% of addiction cases start. A workable adult-use tolerant system is described in Kill the Drug Trade. In the meantime, maintaining supervised injection facilities is one of the most intelligent ways to save lives and money too.
© All rights reserved to Dave Finch 6/7/2017.
I invite you to join me at the Reform Drug Policy Project. We don’t ask for money, just your attention and, if you like, your comments–pro and con. Dave Finch