Another Way Ending the War on Drugs Could Save Lives and Resources
A new study by a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor estimates Baltimore could save millions of dollars with just one safe injection site for heroin users
Taya Graham: As the Trump administration continues to bolster the war on drugs, The Real News has been reporting on efforts across the country to fight back. Recently, Real News reporter, Aron Mate, produced this piece on a secret, safe injection site at an undisclosed location that has saved countless lives.
Aron Mate: According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, a US Social Services agency is secretly running a supervised injection site at an undisclosed location. The underground facility has overseen more than 2,500 injections by around 100 people.
Taya Graham: It turns out that so-called safe sites are not just good for people suffering with addiction, but also for the public coffers, at least that’s the case made Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health Professor, Susan Sherman. In her recently published study, she argues that a single safe site for heroin addicts could save the city $7.8 million a year and prevent dozens of overdoses. To get the details on how this works, we sat down with her and several advocates to discuss her methodology, what a safe space would look like, and some of the possible obstacles to doing this in Baltimore and cities across the country.
Susan Sherman: I just want to make sure that there’s a definition of it. A safe consumption space is a place where people can bring previously purchased drugs to consume by themselves, not sharing anything. You go about your business in the room where people actually use drugs, inject drugs, and then often times they’re places to hang out, a room with couches for people to hang out. There’s always someone … Like in Vancouver, the safe injection facility, there’s a person who’s sitting in a booth, a medical provider, and then kind of in a semi-circle with mirrors in front, they’re people who are injecting at stations, so to speak. It’s very clinical, so if you close your eyes and you see a clinic with kind of booths, that’s what it looks like. There are other spaces we would hope, in a safe consumption space, where people could hang out, where there’d be case managers to talk to people about what their needs are, where there will be medical providers, etc.
The model that we would love to happen in Baltimore city would be an integrated model. Would be … These cost benefit analyses that have been done in Vancouver, and San Francisco, and now one in Baltimore are so important because if the human aspect doesn’t appeal to you, that people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, that actually treating them with dignity and respect is an amazing first step to getting them to be where what most often is best for them, which is not actively using drugs, and in the life that’s … There’s so much violence and people don’t know what the drugs are cut with now that we have such an incredible penetration of Fentanyl and other adulterants in the drug market. If that doesn’t appeal to you, keeping people alive, and it’s cost effective. It actually saves a lot of money in terms of ambulance coming for overdoses, in terms of people being in the hospital. That’s also an external benefit to society.
William Miller: We have safe consumption facilities. Old houses they call [abandominiums 00:03:10]. McDonald bathrooms. Now we’re moving up, Olive Garden, Red Lobster. It’s a traumatizing thing for a child to see a person in the act. We’re not talking about a fatality. We’re talking about just in the act. “Mommy, what is that?” That was me being curious. “Why my spoons all burnt?” I know it will help because it’s not just safe consumption. That’s the first thing we’re thinking, “Y’all going to let somebody use.” It’s about linking care and on the linking, they just did a link with the buses in Baltimore, so we’re trying to link the care. We’ll take some things from the governor, so we can … That’s going to link us to care.
Susan Sherman: Safe consumption spaces, there are over a hundred of them in 66 cities and 11 countries throughout the world. In many places, this is just normal public health practice. It’s one more service that’s provided. It’s not something that’s considered so out of the box, or so out there. It actually is just one of many services that are provided to meet the needs of drug users where they are. It’s based on a philosophy of harm reduction, as is drug treatment. That’s meeting people when they are, when they’re ready to quit and we know it takes an average of six times of people quitting for it to stick.
What happens … I’ll tell you a little bit about the benefits inside the walls of a safe consumption spaces. We know that it’s been significantly associated with reducing HIV, reducing hepatitis. In the millions of injections that have happened all over the world, there’s not been one fatality from an injection and this is since 1989 when the first safe consumption space started in Bern Switzerland. We can’t say that about unsafe consumption spaces that happen all over in Baltimore in abandominiums, in bathrooms at restaurants, drugstores, pharmacies, where there aren’t people there to help people and people fall out and they die.
William Miller: My dad was never there. He used for over … I must say my age now, so he used for over all my life, 40-something years. 41 years to be exact. He in and out, in and out, and he just recently went back out. He was going to work with me, that’s why I always announce myself as William Jr., because they know my dad. Like, “How’s your dad?” I never speak about it. I never speak about it, so it’s like … My aunts called me, the sisters that love him, and he’s just … He get on my nerves sometime. I love him, but we always practice, we can’t make nobody do anything. I know what he need. Well, I think I do, but he know exactly what he need because we all our own best agents. He’s back in active addiction now, so I see him every couple of weeks, [crosstalk 00:06:12] but I don’t see him as much. Yeah. I didn’t know I was going to get like this, but that’s my man.
Susan Sherman: Because it’s important for people when they’re ready for whatever they’re ready for, if it’s housing, if it’s getting their ID, if it’s having a physical that they haven’t had in a while, if it’s getting into drug treatment, it’s important to have things in place, easily accessible for them to be able to take advantage of it.