Safe Drug Injection Sites Do Save Lives After All

By Troy Farah | September 27, 2018 5:45 pm
drug injection heroin safe site

(Credit: Africa Studio/shutterstock)

Some 200 people die from drug overdoses every day in America. That’s left officials around the country desperate for solutions. One of the most common — and controversial — ideas is to open supervised injection sites where drug users can take illegal drugs with medical professionals standing by to prevent overdoses and the spread of disease.

The scientific evidence shows these sites can save lives. But last month, a controversial new study challenged the oft-claimed benefits and reignited scientific debate just as the idea was finding fresh momentum. Now the journal that published that rare piece of contrary evidence has retracted the article, citing “human error.” But some advocates worry the damage is already done.

A Highly Contentious Idea

From Seattle to New York and from Philadelphia to Denver, local policymakers have been pushing to open America’s first “safe injection site.” A bill legalizing these facilities is even currently sitting on California Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

But the idea is still highly contentious. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently trashed supervised injection sites in a a New York Times op-ed saying they would “destroy” communities. He even threatened legal action if one were to open on American soil.

The notion of allowing someone to shoot up under the watch of a nurse may seem counterintuitive as a health policy, but supervised injection sites are not a new idea. The concept dates back to the early 1970’s in The Netherlands. Some clinics in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere in Europe have been operating for decades. There are around 120 such facilities operating in a dozen countries, with more opening all the time as HIV infections from drug use rise globally.

But to date, there has never been a report of an overdose death at one of these centers, which have been closely observed by intrigued researchers. Almost all scientific evidence suggests supervised consumption rooms have benefits like cutting blood-borne disease rates and overdose deaths while promoting safer drug use. For example, a recent report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction examined three decades of research and found the sites encouraged drug treatment and did not increase crime.

New Evidence on Supervised Injection

But in early August, a meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Drug Policy came to a different conclusion. It declared that so-called safe injection sites produced “relatively modest results” when it came to reducing drug-related harms and essentially had “no effect on overdose mortality or syringe/equipment sharing.” The paper encouraged more research on the issue, but said the lack of replicable data made for weak evidence that they help.

The study was also widely reported in the media, bringing even more disagreement to the debate. However, on Wednesday, the editors at IJDP retracted the research, citing “methodological weaknesses” due to “honest human error.”

Study authors Tom May, Trevor Bennett, and Katy Holloway used a rubric to look at the available data on supervised consumption and discard any research that didn’t meet their criteria. They whittled down 1,058 unique studies to just eight, arguing that most of this research did not include control groups or had other design flaws.

But it’s now apparent that the meta-analysis itself wasn’t so perfect, either.

“The authors acknowledge that the combined effect size reported in the original paper should be discounted,” the study’s abstract now reads. “Given that the composite measure was a key finding reported by the original paper, the decision to retract the paper from publication had been made, including with the consent of the authors. The journal acknowledges that the peer review process did not pick up on the specific methodological weaknesses identified post publication.”

“Many of the problems with the meta-analysis stem from the decision to pool multiple dissimilar outcomes,” authors Ahmed Bayoumi and Pamela Leecee said in one of the critiques. “A more rigorous approach would have asked whether it is meaningful from a public health or clinical perspective to combine results that measure very different outcomes and were collected in notably different contexts.”

What this means for the future of supervised consumption sites in the U.S. remains to be seen. Some medical professionals and harm reduction advocates claimed on Twitter that “much damage” has already been done.

It seems that many of the original conclusions on supervised consumption were correct — they do decrease overdose mortality, lessen the spread of infectious diseases, and urge drug users to seek addiction treatment. In other words, they save lives.

While more research in this area is definitely needed, one underground supervised injection site has been secretly operating in the U.S. for years, demonstrating that it can be done without serious negative consequences. The question remains: how much longer will supervised consumption endure in the shadows?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • John C

    If this is less of a drain on taxpayers overall it’s worth a look.

    • Uncle Al

      Initiate a massive government program to verify this with interminable studies.on the largest of scales, over decades.

      Were you born stupid or were you trained?

      • John C

        Or, you could do a pilot program. And go from there.

      • Shawn Jones

        uncle al. what is your white terrorist self doing in a land called america where no white people are from? The same thing you are doing every second of your life eh? genociding everyone on the planet? btw u dont look like a white blood u look like one of the israelie invaders of america, so dont think im that dumb i cant see who you and your real leaders are. you talk a whole lot tho. People who talk do not do. They have empty heads. Like birds or women who chirp all day

        • OWilson

          You left out closet fascist and mental incompetent! :)

          Now just relax and go find your nearest shoot up center!

          Or maybe you just came from there! :)

  • kelvin1

    You have saved no ones life if you give them a place to shoot up. You just helping them to commit suicide slower and easing your own tortured conscious

    • 7eggert

      So let’s make sure they die of AIDS and Hepatitis, eventually spreading that to their friends and the friends of their friends and eventually to your children?

      Or shall they die from overdose before eventually being rescued?

      It’ s an addiction, not something like “Now I need to avoid lactose”.

      • kelvin1

        Spreading to their friends and friends ? When does their lack of responsibility become my problem. Keep them away from people. You libs are all about letting people do what they want. If they want to kill themselves then let them. My conscious does not go to the losers in life before it goes to those who care about themselves.

        • 7eggert

          Al I said, when it spreads to your family.

          • kelvin1

            Why would it spread to my family? Why would i want to watch a family
            member suffer under the the guise of helpful addiction and kill them
            self at a slower pace. I am a first responder and i see drug addicts who
            we get to help all the time. Same cycle over and over again. Same
            people endlessly on the edge of death until those who enable them end up
            burying them. No gain in it for anyone.

          • 7eggert

            Why spread? Because people seek company. Either you allow them to join good people and change for the better, or the opposite will happen.

            You are a first responder to people crashing down. Do you expect them to raise up by constantly crashing down? You’re expecting miracles even though you observe them fighting like Sisyphus .

            These sites try to avoid them crashing down. They shall fight their way upwards, maybe rest there, then fight again from a better position – plus with help and guidance.

          • kelvin1

            ” Do you expect them to raise up by constantly crashing down?: No, i expect them to die sooner than they should. You can wish all you want but reality still takes precedence. Addicts don’t seek company. They seek drugs, and when being led to believe it is ok they will be less inclined to quit. They may not want to be where they are but they will seldom if ever kick addiction when being supplied with a way to keep doing drugs in the name of false compassion. Money and time is better spent on those with real needs. The elderly and contributors to society, not the dregs

      • OWilson

        We should be cautious about excusing, assisting and enabling societal and self destructing additions.

        Addictions like alcoholism, pedophelia and drug addiction are a real threat to society, and should be treated at least with the same social revulsion and profound disapproval of say, smoking cigarettes :)

        • 7eggert

          If we make sure the path back is a big leap and the path thereto is a wide bridge, what are we to expect?

  • Uncle Al

    4 people/state-day, including professional addicts.

    There is nothing politically better (short of a putsch) than an infinitesimal “problem” that requires $billions in action and totalitarian regulation – and activism! – to achieve a larger problem.

    • 7eggert

      That’s why drug cartels and conservative government hate safe drug injection sites.

  • OWilson

    While a million children die from hunger every year and your inner cities are dying, National Debts pile up, and $billions are spent on the search for alien life on Mars and beyond, the question will always be, which lives are worth saving, newts, California minnows, street drug addicts?

    As Hillary say’s, “Hard Choices!”


    Mother Nature (Darwinism) takes your answers seriously!

    • 7eggert

      That’s not a question of either or. Improve yourself, improve your neighborhood, think globally, act locally. If you try to marginally improve your well-being and make others be worse, one day it will be taken from you.

      Darwinism – if you’d understand him correctly – would dictate to support each other, as we are superior apes by doing exactly that.

      • OWilson

        Darwinism doesn’t think globally, and has no dictate or edict to support or enable, say, communists, militant Islamists, criminals and self destructive behavior in general.

        Dealt with appropriately, perhaps, but not “supported”.

        Those damn semantics again! :)

        • 7eggert

          That’s because Dawinism, as used by Dawinists, is Pre-Dawinistic superstition bearing a label based on continued ignorance. They want to sell dominance of the prime-chimp and earn whatever the Omega can do – and that’s the criminals and the terrorism we get. Because why should the Omega support the Alpha beyond what he’s forced to do?

          • OWilson

            Questions which, our answers to, will determine the future course of our evolution!

            Mother Nature can only intercede sporadically, so we are mostly left alone to determine our own human destiny!

      • Shawn Jones

        oWilsion is white. he only cares about killing people., thats the white races main high. Killing indians, killing arabs,killing blacks, killing germans, killing asians. They just cant stop killing. The white empires always end the same way, the world teams up on them and kills the white terrorists who created them

        • 7eggert

          It’s easy to have a narrow view and only to care for the next of kin. It’s easy to pretend you’re on the good side.

          I know an old priest, she is above 80 years old, and despite her age, she still admits that she needs to learn. God bless her.

        • OWilson

          You first, Tonto!

          They won’t be killing me. I live among “people of color” and they’ll have to fight a few of my black and brown neighbors and friends, before they get to me!

          By the way, I am retired, our TV only plays only telenovella soaps, local news and game shows, so my slow and unreliable internet is one way how I keep track of what y’all are doing to yerselves! :)

          No racism, no terrorism, civil unrest, low crime, no drive by shootings at the mall, (no malls) no burning cop cars, and looting neighborhood Mom and Pop stores

          And ah, the beaches!


  • John C

    What’s more expensive?

    Pouring money and resources into a drug addict who has hepatitis, HIV and regularly gets brought in for emergency care from overdosing?

    Or, a drug addict who doesn’t have as many health issues and is less of a burden on society?

    Drug addicts are just black holes who drain resources and people who are anywhere near them. Assume the majority of addicts could care less about going clean, or are mentally incapable after years of self destruction. What’s the best course to limit the damage from the human black holes to all around them?

    • OWilson

      Certainly not free drugs, clean needles, and a safe place to shoot up!

      Why not free whisky, illegal web sites, and free cigarettes, clean glasses and ashtrays in a nice friendly environment, provided on the public tab, manned by a helpful, none judgmental, support staff? :)


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