New Mexico takes the first steps toward supervised injection sites
In other countries, they’ve been shown to significantly decrease overdose deaths.
Late Tuesday (Feb. 13), New Mexico’s House of Representatives voted 57-9 on legislation to allow the state’s Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to begin looking into supervised injection facilities as a strategy to reduce opioid-related harm and overdose deaths. Practitioners at these facilities would administer a form of pharmaceutical-grade heroin called “diacetylmorphine” to individuals with opioid dependencies and use disorders.
Supervised injection facilities aim to provide individuals with opioid use disorders with sterile equipment, safe dosages, and responders on site who are prepared to administer Naloxone in case of an overdose. Proponents of these facilities see them as an indispensable tool in preventing drug overdose deaths, which have reached an epidemic level in recent years.
The United States is currently in the grips of the most deadly drug scourge in the country’s history, which many have come to know as the opioid crisis. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
This crisis has partially been driven by the liberal prescription of opioid medications like Oxycontin and Percocet, which are highly addictive. Many consumers of these medications, who may have originally obtained a prescription to treat, for example, a sports injury, develop opioid dependencies and then addictions. Once these prescription medications become too expensive or no longer accessible, many consumers will switch to a cheaper opioid like heroin to avoid withdrawal symptoms. One 2014 survey found that 94 percent of respondents in treatment for opioid use disorders claim to have switched to heroin because prescription opioids were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.”
While prescription opioid overdoses have been the leading type of opioid-related death for years, heroin overdose deaths are quickly catching up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin-related overdose deaths increased fivefold between 2010 and 2016.
New Mexico’s recent legislation was sponsored by Representative Deborah A. Armstrong, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee.
“I look forward to learning more about injectable opioid treatment and how it can address problematic heroin use that has plagued our families and communities for generations,” said Armstrong in a statement. “I’m excited that New Mexico has the opportunity to serve as a model for treating drug use as what it is—a health issue that should be combated with evidence-based, rigorously studied treatments with proven benefits for users, their families, and the community as a whole.”
The American Medical Association has also publicly supported supervised injection facilities.
Advocates say these facilities have positive impacts on public health besides reducing drug overdose deaths, such as preventing needles from being littered on the streets. Last March, the city of San Francisco collected more than 13,000 discarded syringes on the streets over the course of a month.
In Canada, these facilities have operated for years with much success. InSite, which was the first supervised injection facility to open in the country, has prevented more than 6,000 overdoses from resulting in death since opening in Vancouver in 2003.
Grant McKenzie, Director of Communications for the Our Place Society, which oversees an overdose prevention unit in Victoria, British Columbia, recently told Herb, “We’re getting up to 40 overdoses a month, but ever since we opened up the overdose prevention unit we haven’t had a single fatality from that.”
New Mexico isn’t the only state to consider implementing supervised injection facilities. Last month, the city of Philadelphia also announced plans to implement “safe injection sites.” San Francisco is planning to open what could become the United States’ first safe injection sites around July 1 of this year.
Despite the growing body of evidence showing these facilities benefit public health, it’s still a violation of federal law for any facility to allow the consumption of illicit drugs.