Lessons from Vancouver: U.S. cities consider supervised injection facilities

published on July 5, 2018 by Elana Gordon in WHYY

In 2016, opioid related deaths surpassed 40,000 in the United States, more than double the toll from six years prior. Deaths continue to climb.

Yet an opioid overdose does not have to be fatal.

When such drugs overwhelm the brain’s receptors — slowing down and stopping vital functions like breathing — that can all be reversed if someone is there to respond. It’s why the United States’ chief medical doctor recently urged more and more Americans to carry the overdose reversing medication, naloxone. If administered soon enough, naloxone removes a drug’s fatal grip and can bring someone back to life.

But people who use illegal drugs often use in hiding, in unsafe situations — and alone.

If a bad hit happens in a dark alley, an abandoned building, a solitary room, or the woodsy brush out of view of others, help may arrive too late.

The stark reality has prompted desperate cities from San Francisco to Philadelphia, from New York to Seattle, to consider something that’s never been sanctioned in the United States — opening a supervised injection facility.

Supervised injection facilities are places where people can bring in illicit drugs and inject them without fear of harassment and under medical supervision, in case of an overdose. Proponents say such spaces help people use in safer ways. And, they argue that those sites are often connected to recovery services where drug users can get help when they are ready.

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