Safe injection sites are a controversial topic right now, as policymakers and government officials look at ways to help curb opioid epidemic deaths. One recent study shows some promise in safe injection sites and how useful they might be.

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a study on the topic and found that 77% of surveyed people who used drugs would be willing to use safe consumption sites. The study was published in June in the Journal of Urban Health.

The lead author of the study, Ju Nyeong Park, said researchers found a “strong willingness” to use safe injection sites, also known as safe consumption spaces. The research team pointed out that it’s important to look at the study findings because people who use drugs are often not part of public health debates and policymaking conversations.

The majority of respondents to the survey were motivated to use the safe injection sites to be safe and reduce their exposure to negative health effects that can stem from injecting drugs.

The study surveyed people described as high-risk opioid users, using fentanyl, heroin and illicit pain medications.

What Is a Safe Injection Site?

A safe injection site is a public health location where people can go and privately inject drugs with clean needles. Health care professionals are present to monitor them and provide medical intervention if necessary, but drugs aren’t provided, nor is assistance with injection.

The professionals who work in safe injection or safe consumption sites can also direct people who come there toward other services, ranging from general medical care to addiction treatment.

The idea is to dissuade people from using drugs in public spaces and stop the spread of diseases acquired through the use of dirty needles. Proponents say safe injection sites can improve the health of people who use intravenous drugs and reduce public health costs.

Around a dozen U.S. cities are currently considering implementing safe injection sites, but at the federal level, it’s likely these wouldn’t get the green light. Critics of safe injection sites feel these facilities encourage illicit drug use and fear that they could increase crime in the communities where they’re located.

Do Safe Injection Sites Work?

Do safe injection sites work? It’s difficult to say whether or not safe injection sites work because different metrics can be used to measure how well they’re “working.” Primarily, the current metrics available are related to harm reduction.

For example, there hasn’t been a single death reported in a safe injection site, including those located in Europe.

A 2014 review of 75 separate studies showed these safe injection sites reduced overdoses, increased health care accessibility, and promoted safer conditions. They’re also often linked with decreased drug use in outdoor and public areas.

A study that focused on a Canadian safe consumption site called Insite — which has supervised more than 3.6 million injections since 2003 — found that deadly overdose rates went down significantly in and around the site. Research also showed that people were less likely to engage in risky behaviors when they went to Insite and were more likely to start detoxing from drugs and access certain addiction treatments.

According to the American Medical Association, studies done on safe injection sites in other countries have shown that these supervised injection facilities reduce the transmission rate of diseases, increase the number of people who initiate treatment for addiction and reduce overdose deaths.

Getting More Users to Safe Injection Sites

While safe injection site statistics show promise, even if they are implemented more widely in the U.S. that doesn’t necessarily mean people will utilize them. This could be a challenge even if public acceptance of such sites were to grow. It’ll be important for health officials to help people understand that safe injection sites are compassionate places where people can go without the fear of stigma. Safe injection sites can only be effective when people feel comfortable enough to use them and have access to them.

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