America’s opioid crisis is a monumental issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two out of three overdose deaths involve opioids. Fatal overdoses from opioids increased almost six times since 1999, peaking in 2017 at almost 50,000 deaths before declining for the first time in decades in 2018 as the administration’s opioid response started taking hold.
Instead of advocating for common-sense solutions, some groups across the country are advocating for what could be called government-sanctioned drug abuse through so-called “safe injection sites.” However, there is hardly anything “safe” about them.
“Safe injection sites” invite those suffering from substance abuse disorder to inject illegal drugs like heroin and illicit fentanyl under the “supervision” of a medical practitioner. Lest this idea sound far-fetched, this trend started in Australia and then Canada, and is making its way to U.S. cities.
These facilities typically have a “bring your own drugs” policy and no mandatory testing to determine if the drugs were purchased from criminal dealers. They also allow users to bring any drug into their facility, including methamphetamine, for which there is no overdose reversal medication.
A long-standing federal law, the Controlled Substances Act, provides in pertinent part that: “it shall be unlawful to ... manage or control any place, whether permanently or temporarily, either as an owner, lessee, agent, employee, occupant, or mortgagee, and knowingly and intentionally rent, lease, profit from, or make available for use, with or without compensation, the place for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance.”
Regrettably, in October, a federal trial court in Philadelphia ruled that a proposed safe injection site would not violate this particular statute. That decision is not only legally wrong, but it is also dangerous; and for this reason, the Department of Justice will appeal that decision once the court enters an appealable order, which we expect to be soon.
Nonetheless, addictive drug injection site supporters argue that they provide “treatment” to drug users. But enabling those suffering from addiction to go to the brink of death is a dubious treatment. In fact, a health organization that manages injection sites in Canada estimated that only “about 10% of [its] users enter treatment.”
Injection sites may also endanger the surrounding community. As drug users gather, so do drug traffickers who prey on them. An Australian injection site became a “one-stop-shop for crime,” and a Canadian injection site fostered “open-air drug trafficking.” In Philadelphia, the local police union echoed these concerns, warning that an injection site would bring increased crime to their community, including violent crime among drug dealers seeking to protect their turf.
There is a better way. As Surgeon General Jerome Adams pointed out, medication-assisted treatment, otherwise known as MAT, is the “gold standard for treating opioid addiction.” Following historic investments in MAT by the Trump administration, nearly 1.3 million Americans are receiving that treatment — a 38% increase from 2016. It has been shown to decrease opioid use, opioid-related overdose deaths, criminal activity, and infectious disease transmission, and increase social functioning and retention in treatment.
Under President Donald Trump’s leadership, we are allocating unprecedented resources to fight the drug crisis and seeing tangible results with the first decline in overdose deaths since 1990. It would be a mistake to cede ground by allowing these illegal and dangerous injection sites that normalize drug abuse and put communities at risk. Communities that want real safety for their residents and help for those in addiction should reject safe injection sites in favor of more productive ways of addressing the crisis of opioid addiction.