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What are Safe Injection Sites and How Can They Help Tackle Increasing Overdose Deaths

Last year, more than 100,000 people in the US lost their lives due to overdose.

This dire statistic highlights the continuous rising problem of overdose and indicates that action should be taken to try and tackle rising drug deaths.

While it is nearly impossible to eradicate drug use across the US, it is possible to provide safe and controlled spaces and access to substance abuse treatment to reduce the risk of overdose.  

Setting up supervised injection facilities can provide someone who injects illicit substances with an environment to do so that is safe and clean. 

What are Safe Injection Sites?

Safe injection sites also known as supervised injection facilities are safe and hygienic places where drug users can engage in illicit substance use with the aim of preventing an overdose.

These facilities are in a controlled environment, monitored by health professionals, so there is help on hand if an overdose occurs. 

Aside from providing essential medical care in the event of an overdose, medical professionals in safe injection sites are often available to provide mental health support and other forms of required medical attention. 

Many people who suffer from opioid addiction may find themselves injecting drugs in unsafe locations, such as public bathrooms, tunnels, or houses belonging to other users.

Many of these locations will not be monitored and if an overdose were to occur, help might not be found.

Therefore, an injection site will provide users with the option of a safe space so they don’t feel forced to use potentially dangerous locations. 

Safe injection sites will also allow users to have contact with healthcare professionals who can guide them on ways to overcome drug dependency and offer medical advice on their addiction. 

Safe Injection Sites Combating Overdose 

Safe injection sites are equipped for combating the effects of an overdose by using naloxone.

Naloxone is a medicine that can be administered as an injection or nasal spray, it rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose by attaching to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of the drug.

All staff in safe injection sites carry naloxone and are trained on how to administer it correctly, so if they notice someone experiencing an overdose they will be able to intervene and provide life-saving treatment. 

Fentanyl test strips will also be supplied in most safe injection sites.

These are designed to test for fentanyl – a powerful and synthetic opioid that can contaminate other drugs.

Fentanyl has been linked to multiple deaths due to overdose. Sufficient testing within safe sites can help to avoid the occurrence of an overdose. 

Services Provided in Safe Injection Sites

Supervised injection facilities provide several care-focused services.

As well as providing room for drug consumption they also supply users with things such as:

  • Clean supplies – In safe injection sites, users will be provided with sterile supplies such as syringes, reuse prevention syringes, sterile water virals, stericups, and safety boxes are offered. Providing sterile equipment will reduce the risk of infection being transmitted. 
  • Medical monitoring – Staff in safe injection sites are trained with life-saving support skills. If they see signs of overdose they will be able to intervene and provide medical attention. 
  • Safe room – All safe injection sites provide a safe room where users can feel free from persecution and dangers from the outside world. 
  • Transition assistance – Some safe injection sites will offer support with transitioning to becoming drug-free. When users feel ready they will have the opportunity to access medical support and guidance to help them become drug-free.
  • Sharps containers – Each site will have facilities to safely dispose of needles to make sure they are kept away from public harm. 
  • Alcohol swabs – These will be supplied to clean hands and injection sites to reduce the chance of infection. 

Benefits of Safe Injection Sites

There are many benefits of safe injections sites, the main benefit is the reduced risk of overdose, however, other benefits also include: 

  • Building relationships with staff – As users attend sites more regularly they are likely to develop trusted relationships with the workers. This could help users feel valued and listened to and can increase the likelihood of them wanting to transition safely to a drug-free life. 
  • Breaking the stigma – Setting up safe sites can help to break the stigma that drug users often face. Since sites view addiction as an illness that requires medical attention, it establishes an alternative view of addiction.   
  • Reducing the spread of disease – Often when drug users are forced to take drugs in unsanitary conditions they may be at increased risk of infection by using dirty needles or other unsanitary products.
  • Alleviating financial strain on the healthcare industry – If someone experiences an overdose they will require immediate medical attention. Every time this occurs, it costs healthcare providers both time and money by calling out emergency services. Safe injection sites can help reduce the chances of overdose which in turn reduces health service costs by avoiding emergency service callouts.  

Reducing The Spread of Disease and Infection 

Often, when drug users have no safe space to use, they will find alternative facilities to accommodate their drug habits.

It is likely that wherever this will be will not be either safe or sanitary.

Using dirty needles can lead to the risk of contracting HIV, Hepatitis, or AIDS.

If a syringe has been used before, it may still contain traces of blood. HIV can survive in a used syringe for up to 42 days depending on the temperature at which the syringe is kept. 

If HIV is not controlled it could become life-threatening. 

Equally, there is a 1 in 50 chance of contracting hepatitis which is another serious condition that requires medical attention.

Since safe injection sites are monitored by health care professionals, ensuring there is minimal risk of disease spreading. 

This can also limit the risk of disease to the wider public by targeting the spread at the source. 

Increasing Numbers of Safe Injection Sites

Over recent years safe injection sites across the US were limited.

However, with recent statistics showing their value to both users and the wider community, they are now being rolled out more widely across the US.

Not only do they provide a safe place for users, but they ultimately help to reduce the chance of overdose.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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