13.06.2024

U.S. govt to fund $5m ‘safe injection’ program

The US government will study whether ‘safe infection sites’ for drug users can prevent overdoses, despite critics warning America is getting soft on drugs.

More than $5million will be given to New York University and Brown University to study two sites in and Providence, .

Around 1,000 current drug users will be enrolled with the aim of studying the sites‘ cost and potential savings for healthcare and criminal justice systems.

Volunteers will be given the tools they need to inject drugs like fentanyl and heroin, including clean needles, and will be supervised by medical experts.

Safe injection sites — which offer drug paraphernalia to users no questions asked — first began cropping up across the US during Covid, but have been criticized for not offering counseling or challenging addicts.

The federal government will invest $5million over the next four years to open safe drug injection sites in New York and Rhode Island. Two such sites already exist in the America, both in New York City. Pictured: Homeless people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, use drugs openly on the street

The federal government will invest $5million over the next four years to open safe drug injection sites in New York and Rhode Island. Two such sites already exist in the America, both in New York City. Pictured: Homeless people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, use drugs openly on the street

New York City's rollout of safe drug injection sites has been slammed. Some argue the advertising for the site promotes drug use (pictured), while residents who live near the sites complain the local area has deteriorated

New York City’s rollout of safe drug injection sites has been slammed. Some argue the advertising for the site promotes drug use (pictured), while residents who live near the sites complain the local area has deteriorated

One now-infamous poster advertising ‘safe’ drug use in NYC read: »Don’t be ashamed you are using, be empowered that you are using safely.’

A record 107,000 Americans died from an overdose that year, with a majority of those deaths having been caused by fentanyl.

The Biden Administration, which this grant was given under, has been accused of surrendering to the deadly drug, refusing to implement policies that would prevent it from coming over the southern border and instead investing in programs to limit its impact.

‘There is a lot of discussion about overdose prevention centers, but ultimately, we need data to see if they are working or not, and what impact they may have on the community,’ said Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is funding the new research.

Proponents of safe injection sites argue these sites allow for drug users to safely take the substance they are hooked on without fear of overdose, or contracting a disease such as HIV from using a shared needle.

The drugs are provided for free too, which could potentially reduce criminal activity some addicts will resort to in order to get enough money to afford the drugs.

There are two officially sanctioned sites in New York City, both having opened in 2021. Both facilities are operated by nonprofit group OnPoint NYC.

A site in East Harlem is located on Lexington Ave and 126th St. Many social media users on TikTok and Instagram have referred to the nearby subway station, Lexington and 125th, as a ‘zombieland’ in the year since it opened.

The area was already well known as a site where the trade of drugs and other illicit material thrived, but local residents complain the situation has gotten worse.

David D’Alessio, who has lived near 126th and Lexington for a decade, told The City: ‘I have witnessed things I’ve never seen before.’

‘Including brazenly open dealing, people defecating (in broad daylight), users with needles openly using injection drugs … and even a man receiving oral sex between parked cars.’

Some have also slammed the marketing campaign surrounding these sites as promoting drug use.

One poster advertising ‘safe’ drug use reading: ‘Don’t be ashamed you are using, be empowered that you are using safely.’

Rhode Island, which will be home to a site in NIDA’s study, authorized the injection sites that same year. The Brown University site will be the state’s first.

Legislatures in California and Vermont passed bills to allow safe injection sites, though they were vetoed by Gov Gavin Newsom and Gov Phil Scott respectively.

Pennsylvanian legislators have voted to ban the sites.

Internationally, there are nearly 200 sites operated in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Holland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Ukraine, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Critics argue that just giving addicts drugs without any stipulations, offering counseling, or other help just leaves them wallowing in their addiction.

Many also fear opening these sites will attract addicts and homeless people to the neighborhood, deteriorating the condition for locals.

While there are a limited number of drug injection sites in the US, there are many ‘harm reduction’ programs in major cities already assisting addicts.

Deaths caused by fentanyl in the US surged in the 2010s. At the start of the decade, 2,666 Americans died of a fentanyl overdose. This figure shot up to 19,413 by 2016. Covid made the situation worse, with a record 72,484 deaths recorded in 2021

Deaths caused by fentanyl in the US surged in the 2010s. At the start of the decade, 2,666 Americans died of a fentanyl overdose. This figure shot up to 19,413 by 2016. Covid made the situation worse, with a record 72,484 deaths recorded in 2021

In cities such as Portland, Philadelphia and San Francisco, non-profits offer users the anti-overdose medication Narcan and materials like pipes and straws they can use to smoke with.

They provide similar assistance for drug users in the community without offering counseling or addiction treatment.

In many of these cases, users are addicted to the highly addictive — and deadly — synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Fentanyl has torn through the US in recent years. The drug killed a record 75,000 Americans in 2021 — rising five-fold from the 19,000 deaths it was responsible for five years earlier in 2016.

Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, one of the most commonly used pain-reliever in the world.

It takes just a small dose of fentanyl to cause an overdose. Just two milligrams — the equivalent of five grains of salt — is enough to cause death.

Because it is cut into other popular drugs, many people who die of overdoses do not know they are taking fentanyl.

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