This week it was announced that that the city of San Francisco will likely have the country's first authorized heroin injection site. The San Francisco Department of Public Health unanimously voted to allow an injection site to be opened in the city.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 63,000 people in the US have died from a drug overdose in 2016, with that figure growing each year. A report published by the city’s Safe Injection Services Task Force noted that at least 100 of those people were in the city of San Francisco.
In other cities where Heroin is a major issue, such as Seattle and Baltimore, local organizations are pushing for the opening of safe injection sites, but the local government in San Francisco seems to be moving a bit faster in authorizing these facilities.
Laura Thomas, the California state director for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance told FOX59 that these types of facilities have had incredible results throughout the world.
"I’m really excited, I’ve been working on this particular issue for over a decade. There are over 120 of these around the world at this point, and they all operate on the same basic idea. You show up; you check in; you use your drugs; you hang out for a while, interact with the staff and then go on your way,” Thomas said.
“One of the biggest supervised injection facilities in the world — certainly in North America — is Insite in Vancouver, British Columbia. There’s a nurse’s station in the middle of the room that has all of the syringes, sterile supplies that they may need, and then they go through the usual process of preparing their drugs and injecting them, all under the supervision of trained staff. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that San Francisco has prioritized the health, safety and well-being of its residents over state or federal law. Times have changed. The biggest threats we’re seeing aren’t crack houses in urban neighborhoods but overdose deaths and people injecting on the streets,” she added.
It seems obvious that addicts would be safer using their drugs in a clinical setting instead of on the streets, so medical teams are on standby in case something goes wrong. These facilities can also act as gateways into treatment for some addicts. Being surrounded by healthcare professionals on a regular basis may help push addicts in a positive direction toward recovery.
San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell believes that this is one of the best chances that the city has at reducing overdoses.
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“I understand the misgivings around it and some of the rhetoric from people who don’t support it, but we absolutely need to give it a try,” Farrell said.
Heroin is one of the most hated drugs on the face of the planet, many of us have lost friends, loved ones and family members to heroin addiction, and it leads us to the conclusion that “something must be done” to stop it.
Sadly, this “something” usually comes in the form of fines, arrests, prison time and other hardcore police state tactics. However, these tactics have proven that they do not work because it has been a serious issue for over 50 years and things have only gotten worse. The drugs have gotten dirtier and more dangerous, and the black market has gotten more violent, as the prison time associated with these drugs has continued to climb.
Heroin addiction is a serious problem, but as counter-intuitive as it sounds, the best way to prevent heroin overdoses is to actually legalize it. Certain areas of the world, like Portugal, where all drugs have been decriminalized, there are far fewer overdoses than there are in prohibition countries. The Washington Post reported that drug overdoses are extremely rare in Portugal, and they have some of the lowest rates of addiction in the world.
People have the impression that under drug legalization, things would just be out of control and drug addicts would be addicts everywhere, but this is not what actually happens.
Currently, under the state of prohibition that most of the world experiences, the treatment, and help that addicts receive is severely limited, mostly to punishments and highly regulated inpatient and outpatient programs. In an environment of prohibition, the strategy is punishment instead of harm reduction, which is actually a much more humane, realistic and effective way of handling serious social problems like heroin addiction.
Examples of harm reduction tactics would be needle exchange programs, drug testing kits at raves, or supervised safe injection sites, just to name a few. Teaching condom use for sexual education, instead of abstinence is another example of how harm prevention is applied to other social issues.
As the war on marijuana dies down, police are seeking to turn their attention on heroin so they can still continue to generate income off of helpless drug users. Although, many community workers and addiction counselors are starting to realize that police state tactics are not the solution.