Author: Justin Mckibben
That’s right, you read the headline correctly. Law enforcement could soon be giving heroin to addicts, for free, in an attempt to fight addiction. While harm reduction is an admirable concept to preserve the lives of those suffering from addiction, this is a hard bit to chew.
Various countries are working to drastically reform drug policies. Some states in America have even started to pursue expanding access to naloxone, needle exchange programs and even safe injection sites. Other countries around the world have gone to new lengths in decriminalization, while others go to new extremes in the War on Drugs. Yet, despite all this variations of progress, giving away heroin seems like the most abstract idea yet.
Police in Durham, a city in northeast England, are planning to offer free heroin to drug users. Why? They say the objective is actually to reduce both crime and addiction.
The Free Heroin Plan?
Durham Police and Crime Victims Commissioner Ron Hogg spoke recently on his logic for providing heroin to addicts. In his statement he said,
“The aim would be to enable people who have become addicted to heroin to follow a program that would stabilize their addiction in a controlled environment, and reduce their dependency on heroin until they stop taking it,”
The idea isn’t just to give addicts free heroin and let them loose, but to create a very distinctive atmosphere of support in hopes of inspiring recovery. The proposed free heroin program would work in combination with a traditional substance abuse support program, and the users would be monitored on use and tapered off. According to the Independent newspaper, the free heroin clinics could be established in the Durham area before the end of this year.
What do Police Think of Free Heroin?
It seems the police department is hoping that if drug users have access to free heroin then they won’t have to resort to crime to support their addiction. While they are aware of how this idea might seem strange, the idea is that they may be able to further decrease all other devastating results of addiction on the community. Crime, spread of disease, overdose death and more.
According to the Independent newspaper, Durham Chief Constable Mike Barton also says the initiative would take away from drug dealers’ profits. With drug users having access to free heroin they hope it will cripple the trade on the illicit drug market. Barton states:
“We need to get over our moral panic about giving people heroin as part of a treatment plan,”
“Our primary concern is to prevent crime. If we’ve got people who are addicted to Class A drugs committing crime, it makes good sense to get that person off drugs.”
Commissioner Hogg also goes on to say,
“The aim of the initiative is to save the lives of addicts, shut down drug dealers and reduce acquisitive crime,”
“It would also reduce demand on police time, and the courts, and I believe it should also help lower the prison population.”
The impact of heroin on the U.K. should of course be noted as a cause for desperate measures.
- 2015-2016 statistics show there were 149,807 people receiving treatment for opioid use disorder in England
- Between 2012 and 2015, heroin-related deaths doubled from 579 to 1,201 deaths in England and Wales
So of course, as the opiate epidemic rattles countries all over the world, a few have decided to react in very different ways. Apparently, some parts of the U.K. are moving toward a very, very liberal stance.
Fix Rooms and Safe Injection Sites
England is not alone on this. Let us also note that Switzerland has actually offered a free heroin maintenance program since 1994. Other governments in the U.K. have approval for similar safe injection initiatives, including:
- The Netherlands
Last October, Glasgow, Scotland became the first city in the U.K. to approve plans for “fix rooms”. These are sites where people will be provided medical-grade heroin and clean syringes with the intent to contain the heroin epidemic.
The free heroin program in Switzerland began in Zurich. It is now credited with decreasing crime in the area. Information indicates this program has expanded to 23 clinics. But it isn’t just free heroin in these locations. These “fix rooms” also provide counseling and support.
Harm Reduction… or Reorganizing?
Now, we have to ask, is this as crazy as it sounds? While the police in these areas seem to be openly admitting that giving away free heroin is indeed enabling, they seem very convinced that things have gotten so bad this is the best they can hope for at the moment. Again, they are hoping to contain the fallout of heroin abuse in their communities and provide information and treatment resources. The idea sounds pretty intense, but some would say desperate times call for desperate measures.
So is this harm reduction, or just reorganizing? Is this tactic set to prevent even more suffering and destruction, or is it a feeble attempt to make some semblance of order out of the chaos of the opiate crisis?
From a personal opinion, as an addict in recovery, I can say I honestly don’t know. It sounds incredibly dangerous and almost irresponsible to say that law enforcement will provide free heroin. Yet, I have to try and understand their logic; that it might be able to prevent some crime. It might take a nice piece of money out of drug dealer pockets, and it might preserve lives long enough to convince them to get treatment. Then again, an addict like me might just take advantage of the free heroin program and get more off the street while also getting free, government funded drugs too.
Past data might show some support to this innovation. I guess we will just have to wait and see what becomes of this. Until then, there should always be an emphasis on the possibility of effective and comprehensive treatment. Even with the free heroin program, the idea is to get people the treatment they need.
We want to know what YOU think.
Addiction and drug abuse have become relevant in every aspect of American life. Police, politicians, educators and community leaders are trying to create radical changes in perspective. Not every perspective is easy to understand, but the common goal is inspiring lasting recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free.
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Author: Justin Mckibben
I know what you’re thinking… but just set aside that thought for a second. Many of us know the flaws of contempt prior to investigation. So I ask of you to consider the following, and do some investigation yourself, to see what impact this whole idea might have.
You may remember, because I’ve written on the subject of safe injection sites many times, that last September the Harm Reduction Coalition convened with law enforcement and public health experts on an international level to deliberate on the possibility of supervised injection facilities helping to reduce the opiate addiction crisis and overdose death outbreak in American. Since then, officials in several states in America have proposed the implementation of supervised injection facilities, including:
In this discussion, reports were presented with some of the pros and cons of the concept, and with the press and politics focusing so heavily on addressing the epidemic status of heroin and opiate abuse I wanted to revisit the conversation with some information presented. I bring it up again because I have had a few conversations about these facilities; people seem split on the issue and many are misinformed.
What a Supervised Injection Facility IS
Supervised injection facilities (SIFs) are legally sanctioned locations where people who use intravenous drugs can inject pre-obtained drugs under medical supervision.
For those of you who keep implying it makes heroin legal, supervised injection facilities do NOT sell heroin to users OR make heroin legal. It is simply a place where people who are already using can safely use.
They are designed to reduce the health and societal problems associated with intravenous drug use, and have been shown to reduce injection-related risks and harms like:
- Vein damage
- Transmission of diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C
Public Injection Alternatives
Now when it comes to drug abuse and recovery from addiction, there is no cookie cutter answer and no express-lane (in my experience) to lasting sobriety. There are numerous programs put in place to provide different treatment alternatives, and one genre of treatment that has been making some come back is harm reduction- which includes supervised injection facilities and needle exchange programs.
As part of the consultation there was a report titled Alternatives to Public Injection in which experts with experience operating supervised injection facilities shared how such services were implemented in their countries. These areas included:
The experts also enclosed in the report how effective supervised injection facilities could be as an alternative solution to public health crises that involve injection drug use. Over the course of this committee there were other entities including:
- Open Society Foundation
- Foundation for AIDS Research
From these reports and discussions there came some relevant information that could be crucial to American policymakers. These points might also cause the everyday skeptic to pause and wonder if these kinds of initiatives can’t do some good.
- People who use SIFs take better care of themselves
- They reduce or eliminate their needle sharing
- Ultimately, participants reduce their drug use all together
- SIF participants gain access to other medical and social services
- Participants have resources to seek addiction treatment
- SIFs do not increase drug use in the surrounding area
- Crime and public disturbances decrease in the areas around these programs
- There has not been a SINGLE overdose death in any of these programs over many years of operation
That last one… that is an especially impressive statistic with all things considered! The simple fact that these sites, which are not yet in America, have been able to treat overdoses and eliminate deaths should at least have people thinking twice about supervised injection facilities.
Long Way to Go
The fact of it all is America has a long road ahead before we ever get to a place where this is a popular idea. Taking into account how many people on the outside of addiction looking in still only have an understanding based on stigma and fear, the reality is that it would be incredibly difficult to get this idea off the ground and make it work because every country in so far operating SIFs have stressed in order to successfully implement supervised injection facilities it is important to have support from all corners, such as:
- The community
- Local law enforcement
Greg Scott is a professor of sociology at DePaul University who has shown a strong sentiment for the need of progressive ideas that promote health and safety over incarceration and punishment. Scott stated,
“SIFs are practical, concrete, humane, and cost-effective.”
“In every respect, SIFs make sense. They represent a logical (and arguably moral) next step in the process of creatively and effectively providing the whole country with far better health solutions for drug users than have ever been available before.”
American families of every demographic and in every community are feeling the damages of the opiate epidemic and the side-effects of unscientific drug policies, causing an upsurge of interest in public health alternatives. No wonder more people are starting to take supervised injection facilities more seriously.
The Recovery Community
When it comes to people in the recovery community, I understand why some people would be cynical about the possibility of government run establishments allowing injection drug use of heroin or other dangerous narcotics.
Even asking people I personally respect in the local recovery community it seems I get answers ranging from one extreme to the other. Some still say that it is just making legal “shooting galleries” that enable addicts to avoid the consequences of their addiction.
Others say with so many people dying every single day, the numbers speak for themselves and no statistically and scientifically supported program should be ignored without at least a conversation.
Once more, I think the preservation of life and promotion of effective addiction treatment is worth some effort.
Now, tell us what YOU think.
Preventing of death and the spread of disease is vital, and getting the right kind of treatment for drug addiction is paramount to progress. If you or someone you love is struggling, don’t wait. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Yes, I’m bringing this topic to the table once again because now the trend is starting to pick up the pace and it has me curious. The past two months I have written a few stories on how certain counties in New York and in Washington have law makers and law enforcement officials pushing for a some-what controversial tactic for attacking the heroin epidemic in their respective areas by creating safe injection sites for heroin users, or realistically anyone using an IV to ingest drugs, to safely use with medical staff on site and sterilized equipment.
Now California has joined the growing number of cities and states across the country that are actually considering the benefits of opening safe injection sites, so I find myself wondering if more and more people are changing their minds and opening up to the possibility of reducing the overdose death rates by instituting controlled and safe environments for addicts to use.
Around the world there are about 100 safe injection sites operating in various countries including:
Despite the seemingly growing popularity of the idea with some, there are currently no safe injection sites operating here in America. The whole goal of these safe injection sites is to provide a innocuous environment for injection drug users in order to keep them off the streets, while promoting safe injection practices and even providing addiction treatment resources.
Clinics in California
Just this past Tuesday Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman introduced a proposed legislation that rivals those of the other states pursuing safe injection sites. This new move would would make it legal for local and state health departments to allow the use of controlled substances in clinics. During a press conference Eggman stressed the severity of the situation with heroin and opiate abuse and how important it is that we as a nation start to fight addiction in a new way with a better understanding. She stated,
“Addiction is a health care issue, and I think it’s high time we started treating it as a public health issue, versus a criminal issue. This bill is one step to be able to address the heroin addiction and epidemic of overdoses that we’re having in our country.”
Eggman is now focusing on the success of North America’s only supervised injection facility in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has operated since 2003, much like the other times we have discussed this idea Eggman has pointed to the Insite facility as an inspiration for what some believe is possible for states in America to implement in order to save lives.
Canadian Sen. Larry Campbell joined Eggman at the press conference in Sacramento to support her proposal, being an experienced authority on the subject as the mayor of Vancouver during the time the Insite safe injection site was created. In his comments advocating the use of safe injection sites Campbell claimed,
“The drug is illegal, but the person who’s using the drug is suffering from a recognized medical disease. What this does is simply treat the addiction, keep somebody alive and keep them off the streets.”
This is a pretty strong statement from a former law enforcement officer who ran for mayor on the platform that he intended to open a safe injection site in Vancouver, explaining to the press that in his work in the community he saw firsthand the horrors of heroin addiction and overdose death, and that he was tired of watching the body count climb higher and higher and knew something had to be done. Since opening over 13 years ago Insite has seen not a single overdose fatality, and in its first year alone the safe injection site is estimated to have saved the state $1.5 million in health care costs.
Yet the new legislation for safe injection sites in California is nowhere near set in stone, much like any other similar proposal, and still faces stout opposition from local law enforcement. According to a spokesperson for the California State Sheriff’s Association, the safe injection sites bill “sends entirely the wrong message regarding drug use.” So far the voting by the committee has been postponed, which many would call a clear cut indication that lawmakers in California are hesitant to support the institution of safe injection sites.
Every time I bring up this topic we get a decent amount of feedback from people both supporting and opposing safe injection sites, so I guess I’m just wondering if we are set to see any drastic shift anytime soon.
As the death rate escalates in relation to heroin addiction and the infections caused by intravenous drug use, the nation may have to at least consider options that some may find controversial. Safe injection sites might not be the best answer, but it seems some are at least considering it as an option. Beyond the needle for a maintenance program, there is real lasting recovery in holistic healing. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-561-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Almost a month ago I wrote about how one county in New York was considering a new and radical approach to helping heroin addicts in their community avoid the spread of disease and dangerous infections through pushing to create safe injection sites in their area. The question I asked was is this a good idea- and a lot of people responded with very adamant and reasonable answers on both sides of the argument. Some said it was a respectable harm reduction initiative with results in other countries proving its worth, but others insisted it was an appalling and ludicrous concept that promoted drug abuse.
While opinions range from the moderately compassionate to the extremely opposition, it seems still more people are second-guessing the problem and now another state is considering safe injection sites for heroin addicts.
So again, let us talk about the issue and put the question out there- are safe injection sites irresponsible, enabling “shooting galleries” or are they a progressive, optimistic program engaged out of necessity?
Safe Injection Sites in Seattle-King County
The newly formed Seattle-King County in heroin task force in Washington is trying to find ways to expand treatment for heroin addicts in light of what health officials call a heroin epidemic, which has led to skyrocketing overdoses and deaths across every state in America. At this point this new entity is actively considering the creation of a safe heroin injection site as one way to address the growing heroin crisis in Washington State, and as I said this is not the first time this idea has been brought up here in the U.S.
Nor is it the first time safe injection sites have been brought up in North America. Insite is a supervised heroin injection site located in Vancouver B.C., the first of its kind this side of the continent. Thus far Insite has been is seen by some on the task force as a progressive step forward in the fight against heroin overdoses and the spread of diseases such as HIV of Hepatitis C. It aims to prevent fatal overdoses by providing supervised injection sites where drug users can legally use the illegal narcotic under the watch of medical professionals. The idea of safe injection sites is that if an addict starts to overdose, medical workers on location can administer naloxone to reverse the process.
The purpose of these sites is not to legalize heroin as many have argued when it comes to safe injection sites, because the drug is still illegal, but these sites are a safe-haven for ingestion which of course can get a little tricky with technicalities.
Another aspect that should be pointed out is that these users would also receive services and counseling, along with information and additional access to addiction treatment if they choose. So while some critics call it a “legal shooting gallery” those in favor of safe injection sites protest that these facilities are meant to save lives and plant the seed that could ultimately inspire a revolutionary change.
Again, I’ll reiterate the statistics of Canada’s first safe injection facility since it opened in Vancouver in 2003, where there are some pretty noticeable changes:
- Every day around 800 users would visit the facility
- 10-20 users overdosed every week
- 0 deaths have occurred in the facility
The idea of a safe injection site in Seattle-King County even has some the most unlikely people listening, such as King County Sheriff John Urquhart. Urquhart was a 25-year soldier of the failed War on Drugs as a narcotics detective, who now openly admits there is no way to arrest your way out of the heroin epidemic, so even he is open to ideas like safe-injection sites. In an interview Urquhart stated,
“The status quo is not working anymore. This is not really a police issue anymore. More cleaner needles, reduction of Hepatitis, all of these things, I’m told have happened in Vancouver. I want to make sure we can replicate that here before I have support for this kind of a program.”
So the Sheriff is still trying to play it smart before doing anything too drastic, and other experts are saying that this kind of program is not meant to make it easier or more acceptable to abuse heroin, but it is meant to provide a resource that saves lives and may eventually lead those in desperate need of help to the right place to get it.
Still there is opposition, and reasonably so for so many have been impacted negatively by the increasing heroin epidemic and opiate outbreak that has been hitting the nation so hard over the past few years. So many people are suffering and so many communities are being damaged from what is happening out there, and so of course people a weary about a program that they think will only fan the flames of the issue.
I have said this before- I used to be strongly opposed to any form of harm reduction because to me the concept of recovery only meant abstinence and an absolutely radical change… but the truth I have come to realize is that was my experience, but it doesn’t mean that is the only acceptable outcome. On a personal level (which is just my opinion) I believe that in the right context whatever keeps people alive long enough to get help is worth having… I think- how can I advocate for expanded naloxone access and not for safe injection sites that promote drug addiction treatment and recovery oriented counseling that inspires change?
So I have to ask again- is it wrong to have safe injection sites in America?
As the number of people who those their lives to heroin addiction and infections like HIV and Hepatitis continues to rise, the nation may have to at least consider options that some may find controversial. Safe injection sites might not be the best answer, but it might make a huge difference to reduce the amount of addicts dying every day and give them another chance to recover. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-561-951-6135