Supervised Injection Facilities: It’s Not in the Name

A few years ago, Safehouse, a nonprofit in Philadelphia, attempted to establish the first legally sanctioned supervised injection facility in the U.S. but have been repeatedly prevented from doing so. Most recently, however, Rhode Island passed new legislation that will allow for a two-year pilot program to establish “harm reduction centers” in the state’s attempt to prevent drug overdoses which have been drastically increasing there due to the impacts related to the pandemic.

When you read or hear of a Supervised Injection Facility, what comes to mind? It’s understandable that many people tend to think things like ‘people injecting drugs,’ ‘drug use is being condoned and endorsed,’ and the words ‘addicts, crime, or criminal(s)’ may be at the forefront of their minds. If we were to leave the thought process there we would walk away with a completely negative view of the concept, you may even have feelings of anger, worry, or fear.

I have been following this concept for quite some time now but when it was new to me there were all kinds of questions racing through my mind. Instead of allowing them to sit there and fester, I went in search of the answers. What we tend to do is look for the answers in the wrong ways, the wrong places, or choose to not look for them at all and stick closely to our position even though many never know or acknowledge why they hold the perspective that they do.

So, let’s take a step back for a moment, clear our mind, and take the time to inspect and understand what they are and why in recent years they have become a more popular topic here in the U.S.

What even is a Supervised Injection Facility?

A Supervised Injection Facility (SIF), also known as supervised consumption services (SCS), overdose prevention centers, and drug consumption rooms (DCRs), are legally sanctioned sites where individuals can safely come in and use their own pre-obtained drugs all while under the supervision of medically trained staff who are readily available to utilize overdose reversal drugs when needed.

So, we can define it, but does that really put to bed all the fear and anger that individuals, families, and neighborhoods feel when they are told organizations are working hard to place them in their cities where drug use, abuse, illness, and overdose, are rampant? No, then that means we need to go a little deeper and find out what these places are really about. Many read that and think it’s all about giving drug users a safe place to use their drugs but what about the rest of the citizens, and that is a real and valid perspective that should be addressed.

SIFs are not only there to provide a safe space for those using drugs, but when legally sanctioned they work as a medical center and team up with other various medical and social services. So, these trained professionals are not there to condone the drug use, but they also do not judge in order to promote health and well being to the individuals coming in as well as educate them on the drugs being used. By cutting out the judgment and criminalization of drug use it takes on a preventative and treatment approach to public health.

Personal accountability comes in to play here quite often. While it may be a valid concern, the perspective can change if one chooses to, all it truly takes is looking up infographics, guides, and other resources to correct the initial negative response. It becomes plain to see that these are medical facilities, not drug or ‘crack houses,’ and they would be a supportive addition to our nation’s already existent public health approach to combatting the drug crisis.

They also have numerous benefits, not just for the user, but the areas they are placed in. If you truly want to get a new point of view just look at what they have been evidenced to provide communities around the globe. In well over 100 studies SIFs have shown to:

  • Prevent overdose deaths
  • Reduce transmission rates of infectious diseases (e.g., HIV and hepatitis C)
  • Reduce injection-related infection
  • Reduce public injections
  • Safely dispose of syringes
  • Increases access to medical and social services (including housing placement and drug treatment)
  • Do not increase drug use, drug trafficking, or bring crime in areas facilities are located

Why we need them here?

In recent years drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed as the pandemic interrupted the lives of those with substance use disorders which made them highly vulnerable during this time. In 2019 alone over 70,000 Americans died from a drug-involved overdose, and the numbers have continued to increase moving to over 81,000 in 2020. We have a well researched and evidence-based solution to this specific tragedy, those human beings should never have died, but we know we can prevent that from happening, and yet many continue to fight against the concept. Why?

If we really wanted to understand the major pushback and negative view related to drug use and the user that we have today then we need to take it back to 1971, President Nixon’s war on drugs campaign initiative. This was when our government declared drugs, and even more specifically those who the government said were using drugs, as the public enemy.

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

John Ehrlichman, a top Nixon aide

50 years is a long time frame for a construct to be thoroughly and deeply ingrained into a society, how people think about, look at, and treat others related to drug use, and the overall topic. We can’t change what took place in our countries past, but we can control what happens now and in our future. By understanding what led us to this point we can better understand ourselves and the long enduring stigma attached to drug use and those who use, misuse, and abuse drugs, and work towards ending it.

The ironic part of it all is that the majority of Americans believe that our government needs to do more to address the drug crisis, well, this is part of that solution, but in order for the facilities to be fully productive and have the best results we need to end this irrational resistance against them and that starts by growing and learning to see from a different perspective.

Learn for yourself

If you are relying solely on the media, your favorite commentator, or public figure for information, you will not be getting the full view that you need to gain a complete or even accurate perspective. While some news media can be credible, in the informational age we find ourselves in, there are very few excuses to not do the work and research ourselves. Also, relying on one source for information, you are only getting that view, you need to see all perspectives if you’re intention is to understand the topic or even how to talk to others about it.

Information should be pulled from credible sources such as scientific studies and reports from researchers and experts in the field as well as the organizations that have been consistently monitoring and addressing the drug crisis. But, what does credible mean and why don’t some news media organizations or websites count as being credible? To find a credible source, really these are the three main things you always want to be sure to ask yourself or look out for:

  1. “Who is this author?” 
  2. “Is there bias here?”
  3. “What evidence are they providing?” 

I can’t stress this enough, no matter what, vet the source you are reading or listening to. Also, don’t get pulled into misleading sites, website domain names such as .org and .edu are not always going to be your friend out here. Take your time if you need to, but once you get the hang of it, red flags start popping up in a lot of places you may have thought before were strong and helpful.

Change the name to change the perspective

Possibly, we should look into letting go of the entire list of names that comes with defining them and just call them what they are, Harm Reduction Centers. This can get confusing when so many are trying to spread awareness about this public health initiative, it could help if everyone is on the same page, plus it leaves less room for the imagination to take over. Please, let me know what you think in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Supervised Injection Facilities: It’s Not in the Name

  1. Excellent structure, excellent quotes(mane fuck nixon lol) and great insight on how to double check your research. This is a great introduction to the subject for me that’s highly relevant to important subjects I was raised looking into. Well done homegirl👏👏👏👏👏

    1. Thank you for the support and agreed on that Nixon part. I’m glad you got something from it. I’m planning to write more on the topic and go even deeper into the research and politics of it.

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