Re­port re­veals se­cret U.S. safe havens for heroin, drug users.

Ex­perts say such novel ideas are needed to fight opi­oid epi­demic

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY MIKE STOBBE

NEW YORK | A safe haven where drug users in­ject them­selves with heroin and other drugs has been op­er­at­ing qui­etly in the United States for the past three years, a re­port re­veals.

None were known to ex­ist in the U.S. un­til the dis­clo­sure in a med­i­cal jour­nal, al­though sev­eral states and cities are push­ing to es­tab­lish these so-called su­per­vised in­jec­tion sites where users can shoot up un­der the care of trained staff who can treat an over­dose if nec­es­sary.

In the re­port re­leased Tues­day, two re­searchers said they have been eval­u­at­ing an un­der­ground safe place that opened in 2014. As a con­di­tion of their re­search, they didn’t dis­close the lo­ca­tion of the fa­cil­ity — which is un­sanc­tioned and po­ten­tially il­le­gal — or the so­cial ser­vice agency run­ning it.

The re­searchers of­fered lit­tle data, and their main find­ing was that no one died while in­ject­ing at the safe place. There were two over­doses on site, which were re­versed by staff mem­bers us­ing the over­dose med­i­ca­tion nalox­one.

Ad­vo­cates and some politi­cians in re­cent years have called for gov­ern­ment-sanc­tioned in­jec­tion sites as the U.S. grap­ples with the opi­oid epi­demic.

More than 52,000 Amer­i­cans died from drug over­doses in 2015 — the most ever — fu­eled by soar­ing abuse of heroin and pre­scrip­tion painkillers. Gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics for the first nine months of last year, also re­leased Tues­day, show over­dose death rates con­tin­u­ing to spi­ral.

Some say the new re­port could have an im­pact on ef­forts to es­tab­lish safe in­jec­tion sites around the U.S. Such sites have been backed by law­mak­ers in New York, Cal­i­for­nia and other states, along with of­fi­cials in cities like Seat­tle, San Fran­cisco and Ithaca, New York.

“It shows peo­ple that it’s pos­si­ble” to op­er­ate one of these in the U.S., said Lind­say LaSalle, an at­tor­ney with Drug Pol­icy Al­liance who has helped draft safe haven leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als in six states.

In­jec­tion sites are le­gal in coun­tries in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, Canada, Den­mark, France, Ger­many, Lux­em­bourg, the Nether­lands, Nor­way, Spain and Switzer­land, where med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als mon­i­tor drug users. They also pro­vide clean nee­dles to pre­vent the spread of in­fec­tious dis­eases like HIV and hepati­tis C. Ideally, they also steer users into treat­ment and other ser­vices.

Some ex­perts say new ap­proaches are needed to fight the opi­oid epi­demic, in­clud­ing safe havens. But they have faced le­gal and po­lit­i­cal hur­dles. Crit­ics have ar­gued these places may un­der­mine pre­ven­tion and treat­ment, and seem to fly in the face of laws aimed at stop­ping use of deadly il­licit drugs.

Safe in­jec­tion sites are dif­fer­ent from syringe ex­change pro­grams, which were once con­tro­ver­sial but now ex­ist in 33 states.

The un­der­ground safe haven is open be­tween four and six hours a day, five days a week, ac­cord­ing to Alex Kral, a San Fran­cisco-based re­searcher with RTI In­ter­na­tional, and Pe­ter David­son of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego. Their re­port was pub­lished on­line in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pre­ven­tive Medicine.

The space con­sists of two rooms — an “in­jec­tion room” with five stain­less steel sta­tions with mir­rors and stools, and a room next door where users are mon­i­tored after­ward. There are trained staff on hand, but no one who is med­i­cally li­censed, ac­cord­ing to the re­searchers. Smok­ing is not al­lowed there, but drugs like heroin, pain pills, co­caine and metham­phetamine are.

Use of the space is by in­vi­ta­tion only. Most vis­i­tors are white home­less men. It was used 2,500 times over two years by more than 100 peo­ple, al­though re­searchers say the ex­act num­ber of par­tic­i­pants isn’t known be­cause the fa­cil­ity re­lies on anony­mous sur­veys.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

A re­port finds that so­cial work­ers are pro­vid­ing drug users with a safe haven to use and to have some­one on hand to ap­ply Nar­can in the case of over­dose.

More than 52,000 Amer­i­cans died from drug over­doses in 2015, thanks largely to soar­ing use of heroin and pre­scrip­tion painkillers. The safe haven staff say they can pro­vide users with clean nee­dles and op­tions in­clud­ing get­ting clean.

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