It began in Switzerland in 1986 as a way to combat overdose deaths and diseases linked to opioid drugs: safe injection sites, also known as supervised injection sites.
It’s a place where users can inject drugs in a clean place, with clean needles, and under medical supervision.
The idea spread to other countries through the years.
This January, Philadelphia became the first city in the U.S. to approve privately-run safe injection sites. Other cities are taking note, including some here in Michigan.
But the Drug Enforcement Administration does not approve.
As the DEA’s Katherine Pfaff explains, “The U.S. drug policy supports evidence-based programs that prevent or reduce drug use and its consequences, rather than facilitating safer use of drugs. Safe injection sites and heroin-maintenance programs just don’t fit that criteria. Any facilitation of illicit drug use is considered a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.”
Steve Alsum is the executive director of the Grand Rapids Red Project, an organization that aims to improve health and reduce risks for drug users. The group runs a syringe-access program, which aims to reduce the number of HIV cases, as well as overdose prevention response training.
The organization’s methods fall under a strategy called “harm reduction,” which is designed to reduce the negative consequences of substance abuse.
Listen to the interview with Alsum above to hear about the various aspects of harm reduction, whether safe injection sites can actually help people get off drugs, and the future of such sites in Michigan.