In Philadelphia, there is a plan to open the very first safe injection site ever in the United States of America. Currently, there is not a single such facility anywhere in the 50 states. However, other countries do have such sites where drug users on the streets can come to use drugs such as heroin safely. The federal government is blocking the Philadelphia site from opening. They say that safe injection sites promote illegal drug activity.
Keep in mind that marijuana growers and dispensaries are opening for business at a record pace. The marijuana business is booming. US citizens are excited and investing in the legal pot bonanza. Yet, marijuana is an illegal drug. The federal government of the United States of America considers marijuana to be a Schedule I drug with no acceptable medical use. Usually, as in the Philadelphia case, federal law supersedes state law. Nevertheless, the federal government is allowing the billion-dollar marijuana industry to exist. They are doing nothing to block the opening of marijuana dispensaries that are in the business of selling an illegal drug.
What services do safe injection sites provide? Ideally, there is a core set of services provided that are consistent with harm reduction. One thing that such a facility does not do is sell or distribute illegal drugs. The typical safe injection site services include providing a safe place to dispose of needles and syringes and obtain new, clean needles and syringes and observation by trained healthcare workers to ensure the safety of the drug users. The healthcare workers onsite can test drugs for the presence of fentanyl. They can reverse an overdose with Narcan and call for emergency medical support. And, they can provide educational services to inform drug users of what recovery options are available when they are ready to get clean and start recovering from addiction.
There are currently needle exchange programs in the US, which are a critical part of harm reduction. Needle exchange sites can prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis. However, these programs are limited in what they can do to prevent overdose deaths. The reason that there are no safe injection sites in the US is that the federal government is preventing them from opening. The Justice Department prosecutors claim that these sites will be promoting and hosting illegal activity openly.
In the countries where safe injection sites are available, scientific studies have revealed that they reduce the spread of disease and overdose deaths. These sites have been an overwhelming success in providing real harm reduction services. People who survive heroin addiction have the potential to move on to live successful and productive lives. Many already have.
So, safe injection sites save lives. They prevent the spread of deadly diseases. Safe injection sites do not sell drugs or distribute drugs. They protect drug-addicted human beings. Yet, our government is blocking them from opening. Marijuana dispensaries do not save lives. They do not provide any public health benefits other than the questionable claims of marijuana proponents. The benefits of marijuana are already available in legal, FDA approved prescription medications, such as Marinol. Why are these two institutions treated differently?
I am not suggesting that there should be a crackdown on marijuana dispensaries. The reason that I point out this discrepancy is to make it clear that if the federal government can look the other way when it comes to cannabis, why can’t it do the same for something that will make a difference in preventing opioid-related deaths? In an ideal world, the US government would be funding and opening safe injection sites itself in every US city. For now, it would be nice if they would at least allow non-profit groups to get to work, providing harm reduction to their communities.