Should heroin users be given safe spaces to shoot up?
As Western New York continues to face a drug epidemic, public health and drug reform advocates from New York City are urging state officials to consider a new alternative to the problem. Their idea? Give drug users a place to inject themselves under the supervision of healthcare professionals.
On Wednesday, members of the Drug Policy Alliance, the New York Academy of Medicine, and VOCAL New York – all based in New York City – urged health officials to create such sites in New York.
Experts say there are pros and cons to what some might consider a radical alternative. Dr. Richard Blondell, who heads up the National Center for Physician Training in Addiction Medicine, says that for decades, other countries have operated Safe Injection Facilities.
Blondell says the positive side of the idea is harm reduction for drug users.
“You remove people from injecting in unsafe facilities where there’s going to be overdoses. There’s going to be criminal elements that are associated with those sorts of things,” Blondell told WBFO.
But for all the good Safe Injection Sites may do, Blondell says the downside is a public health cost.
“Unless you increase taxes or divert money from some other programs; it becomes a priority thing. So let’s just say that a county’s budget is revenue neutral, so if you’re going to divert money towards safe injection sites, then what are you going to take money away from?,” he added.
Blondell says ultimately, the issue will become a political decision and he thinks New York and even the rest of the country are probably not ready for Safe Injection Facilities.
“I’m not sure people have the political will. People who have injection drug abuse face a prejudice and a stigma. And there is some sentiment that, ‘Why make it easy for them and why spend public money on this?,’” Blondell said.
Blondell says if any level of government in New York were to consider the proposal, it would make sense to study the experiences of other such facilities. One is currently operating in Vancouver and Blondell says similar locations have operated in Europe for decades, but he says the results have been mixed.