By James Bouffard
Philadelphia has recently announced its plans to open ‘safe injection sites’ for heroin addicts. Addicts would be given clean needles to be used under medical supervision, hopefully leading to a reduction in the spread of disease related and overdose deaths. These sites would also provide other addiction treatment services.
It is important to note they are not intended to be taxpayer funded. Instead, city officials plan on facilitating them through working with private organizations.
There is at least some empirical evidence that this approach is far more effective than the draconian and quixotic policy of attempting to squash drug use through the might of law enforcement. It has been nearly fifty years since Richard Nixon declared the ‘War on Drugs,’ and according to their own statistics, the government is losing this war horribly.
Illicit drug use increased slightly between 2002 and 2013, but that’s far from the full story. The amount of overdose deaths has more than tripled in the past two decades, with an especially drastic increase in the last few years. According to the CDC, deaths from heroin overdose increased 20.6 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Of course, the government has done its best to stop this. The amount of heroin confiscated at the southern border more than quadrupled from 2000 to 2013, but this has not prevented the skyrocketing opioid epidemic.
Other countries have experimented with a less bellicose approach, namely safe injection sites, treatment and decriminalization among other methods. Portugal saw a significant reduction in drug-related HIV infections and overdose deaths following its decriminalization of drugs in 2001, which also included increased focus on treatment.
There are over 90 safe injection sites already in existence throughout the world, with some indications that they have reduced disease and overdose deaths.
The efficacy of safe injection sites remains tentative, but as the opioid epidemic deepens, despite government efforts to combat it, there is no doubt that newer and more innovative solutions have to be developed. The ‘War on Drugs’ has not worked.
Politicians, in their infinite wisdom, have nonetheless decided to maintain a hard-line stance. In Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro has come out against Philadelphia’s proposed safe injection sites, and Jeff Sessions’ views on the subject are reminiscent of Reefer Madness.
This almost religious opposition to accepting the inevitability of drug use is only going to perpetuate the problem and will ultimately lead to more and more deaths.