In the White House’s efforts to fight the opioid crisis in the United States, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has announced another policy: no safe injection sites.
Rosenstein has declared that efforts by several states to launch pilot programs to test whether safe injection sites (SISs) or supervised injection facilities (SIFs)—harm reduction rooms or storefronts where drug users can bring their drugs to be tested for impurities (such as fentanyl), receive clean needles and emergency medical care should they overdose—will be vigorously opposed and prosecuted by the federal government.
Advocates insist they can reduce overdose deaths and encourage more substance abusers into drug rehab. Such sites have worked elsewhere—there’s one in Vancouver called Insite—and even Rosenstein admits that at least 10 percent of drug users who enter a safe injection site “find their way into treatment”. That’s not enough, he says.
No, it’s not, but since he doesn’t say that a greater percentage who don’t use safe injection sites “find their way into treatment”, I’m assuming they don’t.
Rosenstein’s source for the “10 percent” statistic is an article in The Atlantic that states Insite has “been associated with increased uptake of detoxification services”, though at least one critic denies that. The article sees that 10 percent figure as a positive, not a negative.
What SISs do is save lives, and if you’re alive, you may still find your way into treatment. If you’re dead, you can’t. The Atlantic also notes that “Studies of Insite have found that it has helped to reduce overdose deaths”.
Among Rosenstein’s other objections are that these SISs are “taxpayer-sponsored haven(s)”. Well, yes, a great many things are. The costs of overdose patients being rushed to the hospital or administered naloxone (Narcan) by EMS is also paid for by taxpayers. And a statistic noted on the Reason blog claims “a 2010 study estimated that Insite … saves five times as much money as it costs” and that a similar program in San Francisco “would save $2.33 for every dollar spent on it”
Reason also cites a 2017 Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative to the opinion that “the effectiveness of SIFs is clear” and that “the American Medical Association supports their legalization”.
Rosenstein also claims that “injection sites destroy the surrounding community. When drug users flock to a site, drug dealers follow, bringing with them violence and despair, posing a danger to neighbors and law-abiding visitors”. He cites a local Washington official’s analysis of the Vancouver site, but The Atlantic article he cited again refutes his point, stating that “research has shown that safe-injection sites, in general, don’t raise crime rates or lead to more drug trafficking”.
Rosenstein’s main objection (as might be expected of a government law enforcement official) is that “injection sites … are illegal”. That’s the same argument officials such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions use for keeping marijuana illegal, despite the majority of Americans and an increasing number of voters in more than 30 states no longer finding this argument compelling.
The truth is that far too many government officials, from the White House to local government, still believe that if you make drug abuse risky enough, addicts will choose sobriety and rehab over continued addiction and death. The evidence does not support this.
Saves lives and money and sends more people to rehab. Safe injection sites seem worth a try.