Safe injection houses are locations where illicit drug users can safely and discreetly use substances, such as heroin and cocaine. They are designed to eliminate some of the health risks associated with injecting drugs and also reduce public disturbances which could be caused by people using in the street or other public places. These safe houses are legally sanctioned and contain qualified medical professionals to supervise anyone who decides to use drugs on the premises. In this way, addicts can take illicit substances in a hygienic environment away from the stresses and stigmas commonly found in the outside world. Safe injection houses are known by the following names, depending on the country they are located in:
* Supervised injection sites
* Supervised injection facilities
* Safer injection facilities
* Drug consumption facilities
* Medically supervised injection centers
In essence, safe injection houses fall into the harm reduction approach when it comes to drug addiction. Activities such as taking heroin come with various risks and these public health policies aim to remove some of these dangers so that individuals can use drugs in a safer manner. In fact, harm reduction has even been suggested as a more effective method of combating drug use than more traditional approaches, such as prohibition and harsh sentences. These laws are seen as punishing people for what is really a mental condition, and could easily have diverse negative effects such as forcing users to purchase drugs from unreliable, illegal sources. Harm reduction, on the other hand, offers a safer alternative for drug users where they can receive the medical, physical and psychological help that they need.
The primary goal of safe injection houses is to provide a hygienic environment in which drug users can take substances such as heroin and cocaine without being at risk of the dangers normally involved with these activities. Typically, these dangers include:
* The spread of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis C
* The chance of infection through contaminated needles
* Risk of damage to the veins and arteries through improper injection techniques
By using within a safe injection house, an addict can eliminate these risks by being offered sterile syringes and other equipment with which they can safely take their drug of choice. On-site medical staff will also be there in case something, such as an overdose or arterial nick, occurs so that the right treatment can be administered immediately. Additionally, these locations are also there to inform users about drugs, their side effects and basic general health care when using. Some also offer counseling services for those who are trying to deal with their habit, and referrals can be made to doctors, clinics and drug rehabilitation centers if necessary.
A Canadian study has shown that safe injection houses may actually reduce the rate of overdose fatalities within the neighboring vicinity. Researchers looked at a center which opened in Vancouver in 2003 and then compared the number of drug-related deaths before and after this event. In the two years prior to the opening, a total of 290 people died from an overdose, a third of these occurring within 500 meters of where the center was located. After the opening though, the rate of overdose deaths decreased by 35% in the local area. By comparing this to the overall decrease of 9.3% for the rest of the city, there is reason to believe that these injection houses have some very positive effects.
Another study looking at the Vancouver site found that crime rates did not increase, despite a rise in the number of drug users in the area. Within the supervised grounds of the safe injection house, addicts were left to use in private without having to disturb the public outside. As well as this, it was also shown that these types of locations had the following benefits:
* Decrease in injection debris around the city
* A slowdown in the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV
* Less government expenses ($1 spent on-site saved $4 of the taxpayer’s money)
* An increase in patients entering rehab clinics through the house’s counseling services
Even with all of these advantages though, safe injection houses have still come under tremendous backlash from the general public and have been slow to be accepted in many areas around the world.
The main argument against safe injection houses is that they can be seen to condone illegal activity. While they do have their benefits, the pastime of taking heroin or cocaine is still against the law, which is apparently in contradiction to the primary aim of these locations. Critics of these facilities argue that by offering free needles and an accepting environment in which to take drugs, the government is in fact encouraging people to use. They state that the goal should rather be the elimination of these practices through limiting supply and reducing the demand for drugs.
Governments in particular have been known to oppose these sites, saying that they can be the start to the even more controversial topic of legalizing substances such as heroin and cocaine. Here though, the politicians have to cater to the wishes of the general public, some of who see safe injection houses as being detrimental to both the nation and its people. One of the main views is that drug users are mere criminals who should not be aided by the state when committing a crime. Anyone addicted to heroin and cocaine is thus categorized into the same group as perpetuators of other crimes, including violent crimes. The train of thought is that these individuals should be fined and/or put into prison in the same manner when caught conducting these sorts of illegal activities. Safe injection houses are seen as being too lenient on those who are knowingly breaking the law. Unfortunately, this point of view does not take into account the fact that those addicted to drugs require medical and psychological assistance in order to halt the cycle of substance use. Safe injection houses go a long way to providing these individuals with a means to effectively return to normal and reintegrate with society.