Is a safe injection site a good idea in Philadelphia?

Last year, more Americans died of drug overdoses than ever before – more than 100,000 lives were lost. Philadelphia was far from spared; More … than 1,200 residents died in 2020 aloneand the city is home to the largest open-air drug market on the East Coast, if not the country.

The big question is: what are we doing about it?

Some have proposed setting up a safe injection site, where people can get clean needles, with staff on hand to reverse overdoses and keep people alive. But the idea is deeply controversial.

We asked two residents: Is a safe injection site a good idea in Philadelphia?

By Brittany Salerno

Over the years, as someone who works with people with opioid use disorder and whose loved ones are also affected, I have heard many opinions about safe injection sites. I understand that the concept may be foreign to some people, and even those who support the idea of ​​a safe injection site often don’t want it located in their neighborhood.

Well, I live in Northwest Philadelphia and would love to have a safe injection site in my neighborhood.

On the one hand, the term “safe injection site” is misleading, as it is not just a place where people can inject drugs using clean needles. It should be called an overdose prevention center instead, because these facilities help keep people alive by providing a safe and sterile space to use drugs under medical supervision, with equipment to reverse an overdose in the event of an overdose.

Philadelphia desperately needs these services. In 2020 alone, the city experienced over 1,200 unintentional overdose deaths.

READ MORE: Overdose deaths in the United States hit a record 107,000 last year, CDC says

And yet, too many Philadelphia residents don’t feel like me. Recently, South Philly residents rallied against the opening of Safehouse, which attempted to open an overdose prevention center in Constitution Plaza.

I don’t blame them for being worried – there hadn’t been enough community engagement and some neighbors felt left out. But amid megaphones and a parade of residents expressing their dismay that day, a young man died behind closed doors of an opioid overdose a few blocks away.

A safe injection site is a medical facility. It does not provide customers with drugs, just tools to reduce harm and a place to safely dispose of needles to reduce both public waste and the potential spread of disease. The sites also connect people to basic wound care, HIV testing and social support services, and provide links to treatment specialists and peers who are themselves in recovery. These centers reach people who are often unconnected to resources, whether due to insecurity, stigma, discrimination or distrust of mainstream services.

It’s not such an experimental concept either, because these sites are effective and have been operational for decades. Nearly 200 secure injections the sites are operating worldwideand no fatal overdoses occurred at any site. In the first six months of the first two US facilities operating in New York, 314 potential overdoses were canceled.

Safe injection sites keep surrounding land clear and studies even show no increase in crime or public nuisance. Although some neighbors don’t like the idea, a national poll of likely voters found that 64% would support a site.

“Our neighbors and loved ones are dying without this resource.”

Brittany Salerno

Not only would these sites promote individual and public health, but they would also save us millions of dollars — more specifically, more than $1.5 million a year in healthcare costs in Philadelphia alone. A site would also reduce overdose calls to paramedics and local emergency services, allowing them to respond to other health emergencies.

Our neighbors and loved ones are dying without this resource. I hold the city responsible for the lack of action on the overdose crisis – they are responsible, not the people struggling with addiction.

Let’s open a safe injection site to start saving lives, connecting people to resources, and cleaning up the surrounding community. We wouldn’t have to wait for evidence to prove a site is effective, because it starts as soon as the doors open. That’s enough for me.

Brittany Salerno is an MPH candidate at the University of Pennsylvania and a founding member of the Philadelphia Overdose Prevention Network.

By Barbara Capozzi

Over the past few years, our beautiful city has experienced a frightening decline in the quality of life. Neighbors and businesses watch in horror as the mind-numbing and unchecked violence; ATVs and dirt bikes terrorize quiet communities and busy downtown streets, scaring shoppers and tourists; the streets and sidewalks are dirty and riddled with potholes; city ​​services have been reduced to the “bare minimum” without even guaranteeing garbage collection; and payroll taxes continue to be the highest in the country.

If that hasn’t produced enough of an index of urban misery, there’s the legacy of the pandemic, riots and unrest following the murder of George Floyd.

Amidst all this, the epidemic of opioid use disorder has driven drug use on public transport, in lobbies and along commercial corridors.

» READ MORE: Business and bloodshed

None of these crises have been handled well, if at all, by our political leaders.

In this context of community exhaustion, the people of Philadelphia are invited to accept an experiment with safe injection sites. Can you blame us for being skeptical?

I know there is data showing that these sites in other cities have not been associated with increased crime or other problems. But can you blame us for being skeptical about that too? Especially considering the crime rate in Philadelphia exploded in recent years.

I agree that the city faces an opioid use disorder crisis. And I agree that we must do more to help those affected and their families. But I don’t believe a safe injection site is the answer — and I certainly don’t trust the city to handle it properly.

“Can you blame us for being skeptical? »

Barbara Capozzi

Our citizens have lost faith in our elected leaders to do the essentials. Nothing illustrated this better than the South Street shooting. The strong police presence could have defused the violence before it escalated, but our elected officials handcuffed the police. In 2016, the city council passed a bill decriminalizing quality of life crimes, such as public drunkenness and disorderly conduct – these offenses are now code violations and not subject to charges penal, as they were in the past. Since then, some business owners say things have gotten more dangerous.

With the administration’s ban on enforcing quality of life crimes, how can any community be expected to host a safe injection site? With the largest open-air drug market on the East Coast in Kensington (on YouTube for all to see), where is the city’s credibility in dealing with the impacts of the opioid epidemic? When more than 1,000 people die each year in Philadelphia from drug overdoseshow can we explain to our kids that it’s okay to give people with opioid use disorder “safe” places to get high?

People with opioid use disorder don’t need another place to get high — they need better options and access to treatment, so they can get back to their lives. hand.

The last time a safe injection site was attempted in South Philadelphia, neighbors sprang into action and rejected the proposal. Since then, townhouse leaders and citizens have begun to come together to form new groups such as A Greater PhiladelphiaPhilly for growth, and Philly Strikerwho advocate a new vision for Philadelphia and restoring our city to where we were five years ago.

As part of this effort, we must do more to help people with opioid use disorders. But a safe injection site is not the solution.

Barbara Capozzi is a realtor and community advocate who lives in South Philadelphia.

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