Safe Consumption Spaces: Reducing the Risks of Drug Addiction

I don’t usually cover addiction on this blog because I’m not well-versed on the issue. However, today I had the opportunity to learn about a drug use safety initiative that I wanted to share with everyone. Although they do not yet exist in the United States, there has been an increased interests in safe consumption spaces for drug users. These spaces (aka SPS) would provide clean supplies, trained staff, and resources for those looking for help. Several drug policy organizations set up an exhibit at my college to introduce this concept to the campus community (I listed the organizations at the end of this post, and added them to the Resources page of the blog).

Safe Shape pop-up exhibition at the University at Albany in Albany, NY

I spoke briefly with Keith Brown, MPH, the Director of Health & Harm Reduction at Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. I also took a tour of the mock SPS from a volunteer with Vocal New York. Here’s what I learned:

Safe Consumption Spaces will reduce the risk of HIV and Hepatitis C.

Many people know that you can get Hepatitis C from sharing needles, but the virus can also be contracted by using contaminated water, arm bands, and other materials used to inject drugs. Safe Consumption Spaces provide drug users with safe, clean supplies, including syringes, cookers, alcohol, and prep pads. New York State has seen a 3-48% increase in new Hepatitis C cases since 2012, so there is definitely a need for safe supplies. Safe Consumption Spaces would provide a place for users to safely dispose of their used equipment to avoid spreading HIV and Hepatitis C, and to keep the public from accidentally coming in contact with used materials.

Safe, clean materials to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C

Safe Consumption Spaces will reduce injuries and deaths from drug use.

Safe Consumption Spaces are aimed at reducing the harms of drug addictions. The mock exhibit I walked through had a station where users can watch an instructional video on how to inject their substances. Trained staff would be at the site to make sure people are not putting themselves at risk of injury by injecting the drugs incorrectly. In addition, the staff would be trained on how to administer narcan to a user who is experiencing an overdose. According to Keith Brown, there has not been a single fatal overdose in the world at an SCS (they exist in Germany, Vancouver, Denmark, and the Netherlands). The exhibit also showed an area where users can relax and experience the effects of their substances without interfering with public order. Some sites even have fentanyl test kits to detect laced substances.

Dispose of used materials safely and inject substances under supervision

Safe Consumption Spaces would connect drug users to resources.

The volunteer from Vocal New York who gave me the tour of the SPS exhibit showed me a table with resources for drug users. These resources included drug addiction services, homelessness services, and mental health services. As Keith told me, some people use drugs as a way to self-medicate. Safe Consumption Spaces can link people to mental health services that can help them safely manage their conditions.

Resources for addiction recovery, housing, and social services

Progress is being made to bring Safe Consumption Spaces to the United States. In Washington State, Kings County has been approved to open the country’s first SCS.¬†¬†There has also been an interest in SCS’s in Vermont, Maryland, California, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), and Massachusetts. I personally hope Safe Consumption Services are also introduced in my home state, New York. As a nation, we need to reduce the stigma against drug addiction. Providing a space that welcomes addicts with open arms will make it easier to find recovery options.

The following organizations sponsored the exhibition I attended: Safe Shape, Drug Policy Alliance, Vocal New York, Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

I’d love to hear your opinions on this initiative!

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