Will Safe Injection Sites curb the rate of Drug Overdose?

The idea of safe injection sites has been at the forefront of overhauling the behavioral health care system in the United States as the drug overdose epidemic continues to rise. In August 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsome vetoed a bill allowing Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco to open up supervised injection sites until the end of 2027. Newsome seemed weary of the idea and noted that it had the potential to “induce a world of unintended consequences.”

The legislation that was backed by California state senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco, believes opening up safe injection sites allows those who are using drugs, to do so in a safe environment. Many times using dirty needles or sharing needles when individuals engage in intravenous opioid use, leads to a high risk of HIV/AIDS transmission. Sometimes these needles are not properly disposed of and can cause harmful effects if a passerby is accidentally exposed to them. Because these individuals have nowhere else to go, they end up using their drug of choice out in the open where there is greater potential for harm to their well-being as well as others surrounding them. 

A hand of a person experiencing a drug overdose holding a needle above a dark table with rolled-up bills, small plastic bags and white powder.

Advocates of the bill say it would help prevent overdoses, slow the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C and ultimately benefit the healthcare system as hospitals and emergency rooms free up from patients who overdose. These “overdose prevention centers” would be equipped with sterile supplies, withdrawal management and primary care services, life-saving medications such as naloxone, which helps prevent overdose, and a staff of caring medical professionals on standby to ensure the safety of every individual who chooses to come to the site. 

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Many believe safe injection sites are a realistic harm reduction strategy that has been proven to save lives in other countries in Europe, Canada and Australia, where they have been legally operating since 1986. There are currently an estimated 100 or more safe injection sites around the world. Programs like this help remove the shame and stigmatization of those with addictions, substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. Ultimately it provides meaningful help for members of this community and encourages them to seek long-term care through substance abuse rehab programs and social services.

There are currently two safe injection sites in the United States operating in New York City. The overdose prevention centers opened in 2021 and are run and operated by the nonprofit organization OnPoint NYC. 

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The legislation, which was originally vetoed by Newsome’s predecessor Jerry Brown, has stirred up the tension for those who oppose openly condoning the usage of dangerous illegal substances at a time when the country’s opioid epidemic is at some of its highest rates in years. Policymakers should instead focus on expanding drug and alcohol treatment programs, says Jim Crotty, a former Drug Enforcement Administration official during the Obama administration. 

Substance abuse rehab programs such as, Hotel California by the Sea, is a premier drug and alcohol rehab provider helping clients achieve long-term recovery. Through medically managed detox, a residential inpatient program, various outpatient programs and specialized and effective substance use disorder behavioral therapies, anyone can recover from substance addiction. Hotel California by the Sea offers individualized treatment plans through gender-specific programs and specialized social services to create a well-rounded treatment plan addressing the physical, emotional and social aspects of a person’s addiction.