Heroin abuse in the United States afflicts hundreds of thousands of people every year. Many die thanks to their addiction to the drug, and many more are left broke and destitute with a slew of health problems. There are those who are able to overcome this addiction, and even a few who are able to use the drug responsibly, though the latter group is an exceedingly small percentage of users. But one of the greatest threats to users of the drug is the threat of being arrested by police and thrown in jail. This leads people to use even more unsafe methods (not that using is safe in the first place) due to the need to hide and utilize dirty needles.
Some areas in the world, including in Canadian cities such as Vancouver, have implemented safe spaces where heroin users can engage in their habit under the supervision of nurses and other healthcare professionals. Of course, they stop short of endorsing the drug use, and even offer education and resources to aid people in breaking the drug’s hold on them. But the key is that they save lives, ostensibly the reason the drug is illegal in the first place.
Mayor Svante Myrick now wants to implement a similar program in his city of Ithaca, New York. He believes that by bringing people in off of the streets for their habit he can prevent the deaths of those who are forced underground due to overbearing drug rules.
“What brought me around was the realization that this wouldn’t make it more likely that people will use drugs,” District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson said, indicating her initial strong opposition to the plan. “What it would do is make it less likely that people will die in restaurant bathrooms.”
The key to the success of such a program is that if somebody overdoses, they are able to obtain assistance immediately. When somebody overdoses at home or somewhere else, they are often unconscious and rarely have somebody who is capable of getting emergency help fast enough, to say nothing of those who fear taking action due to reprisals against themselves or the person in distress.
Vancouver’s injection facility, known as Insite, has been hugely successful at preventing overdose deaths. Estimates vary, but most sources indicate that drug-related deaths in the immediate area surrounding the safe space have been reduced by 35 percent. That represents hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives saved in the neighborhood.
Of course, the idea still has opponents, who fear that by removing some of the consequences of drug use it removes an incentive for people to get clean. After all, if they can go shoot up without being confronted by police, why should they bother? This argument ignores the obvious fact that the point of getting somebody clean is to save their lives in the end. But for many, the law is the highest order of business, regardless of the purpose and the spirit behind that law.