The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Facing the opioid crisis

Safe injection sites are a proven intervention

Our country is in the midst of an opioid crisis, and if Philadelphia is not at the epicenter of this crisis, it is close.

Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest overdose death rate in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Here in Philadelphia, more than 1,200 people died of overdoses in 2017. Around the city are encampments where individuals use opioids and live if they are experiencing street homelessness.

As one aspect of a larger plan to combat the epidemic, the city is planning to encourage and facilitate the opening of safe injection sites, or what the city is calling Comprehensive User Engagement Sites.

Safe injection sites are facilities that allows people to use opioids with the supervision of medical professionals and provide medical intervention, sometimes life-saving, as needed.

Such sites are supported by those who advocate harm-reduction responses to substance use. Whereas the mandatory sentencing minimums of the war on drugs focused on disincentivizing drug dealers and users by inflicting stricter penalties, harm-reduction policies focus on preventing overdose deaths and limiting other adverse public health effects.

Some Philadelphia residents have objected to the opening of a safe injection site in their neighborhoods due to concerns that safe injection sites would draw more people using drugs and more crime to their area.

While the community’s concerns ought to be addressed, and the opening of any safe injection site must be done with the constant consultation of the community where the site would be located, previous research shows that such concerns about a link between safe injection sites and increased crime, drug use and overdose deaths are unfounded. In Vancouver, Canada, where the first safe injection site in North America was opened in 2003, the area of the city around the facility saw a 35 percent reduction in overdoses, compared to just 9 percent in the rest of the city.

Previous research by the city estimated that just one safe injection site in Philadelphia could prevent 24 to 76 overdose deaths, 1 to 18 cases of HIV, and 15 to 213 cases of Hepatitis C. The research also concluded that a single site might also reduce public injections of drugs. The city and its hospitals would save millions of dollars which could be re-allocated to further efforts in the opioid crisis.

At St. Joe’s, we have a host of recovery supports, including the Allies in Recovery Group and on-site Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.  The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse specifically recommends peer recovery support services as important treatment options for adolescents.

The Hawk is also reporting that the Institute of Clinical Bioethics (ICB) is exploring the possibility of opening a Center of Addiction for the purposes of providing education, research and policy proposals for addressing substance use disorder as a public health crisis.

Such a site would be a tremendous service to the city, and an imperative one at that. Though the opioid epidemic is already devastating, it is likely that we haven’t yet seen the peak of the crisis.

Efforts by the city of Philadelphia to combat the opioid crisis prove the idea that some of the more controversial solutions are the best. With this in mind, St. Joe’s should further consider taking steps to open an addiction center and contribute to helping students and Philadelphians with substance use disorder.

—The Hawk Staff

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