A recent study conducted by NYU regarding the use of heroin in New York City’s public bathrooms is further reinforcing calls for a new, and arguably radical anti-overdose tool: supervised injection centers. Also known as SIFs, these facilities would give users of heroin and other illicit injection drugs a sterile and supervised environment to inject the drug with an extra layer of protection from fatal overdose. Medical personnel would be on hand to prevent fatality and even assist with wound care and sterilization.
The facilities are also meant to guard against diseases commonly associated with public injection, including HIV, HCV, and HBV. Study author and NYU postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Brett Wolfson-Stofko, PhD argues that they are practical, cost-effective strategies that would more than likely reduce public injecting and overdose mortality in New York City and assist in linking this population to health services and drug treatment just as they have in other cities throughout the world.
The doctor is, by no means, the first to call for the testing of supervised injection facilities in the city. There currently exists a vigorous movement to give heroin users a safe and secure place to shoot up to prevent the peripheral issues that so often accompany use of the drug (disease and infection, violent crime, fatal overdose, etc.). While there are no facilities of this sort yet established in the United States, advocates are pointing to the nearly hundred supervised injection sites that operate in 10 other countries. The only North American SIF is located in Vancouver, British Columbia; however, there is growing support for these facilities in cities like Ithaca, Seattle, Baltimore and Toronto.
Proponents say the allowance of SIFs is a step toward treating heroin use as a medical issue rather than a legal one; however, others on the other side of the aisle argue that it represents a white flag to a pervasive and widespread public health crisis. It may be hard to argue with the intention behind the call for SIFs, but many are asking themselves if the institutional acceptance of heroin is really the best answer. They argue that it diverts valuable funds and resources from treatment facilities and the research of new anti-overdose efforts.
It’s questionable whether these efforts will gain any traction as they move through the various necessary channels; however, the fact that they are even in play may signify a new collective attitude toward the management of nationwide heroin abuse and the thousands of Americans that are claimed each year by overdose.