Open injection sites–also called safe injection sites–are one of the most controversial issues in addiction and recovery today. While several cities like San Francisco, Ithaca, New York, and Denver have put legislation to establish open injection sites on the agenda, they are technically illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
The proposed Denver site was blocked by the state Senate, which did not end the controversy in the slightest, with a Denver Post op-ed by an addiction counselor-in-training arguing that the sites would save lives and the opposition saying it would only attract more unwanted and illegal behavior to the city. It is a complicated issue that has generated strong opinions and arguments on both sides.
Objections to Open Injection Sites
When the public has objections to open injection sites, they typically revolve around the fear that the site will draw more addicts to the area. Where numbers of addicts have congregated previously, there have been problems like used syringes and other paraphernalia laying on the ground in the area where kids might find them.
The other main objection to the sites is that they encourage drug use, effectively condoning it, and are therefore morally wrong. A site that allows illegal behavior to take place cannot possibly be a good idea, can it?
How Open Injection Sites Might Be Beneficial
The Denver Post op-ed pointed out that addicts are going to congregate somewhere, and that can cause a problem even without an open injection site. This year, there have been six overdoses on the grounds of the Denver Public Library as well as numerous used needles left on the grounds, which suggests that an open injection site might actually draw addicts away from the library and the children who go there.
In addition, dirty needles should not be as much of a problem when the injecting of the drugs will take place inside the site and the needles will be safely disposed of there. An open injection site can likely be placed where it does not disturb other community activities, but will also be accessible to the addicts, like near downtown or along a bus route.
Treatment professionals that are proponents of open injection sites generally say that they are harm reduction methods; while they do not stop the drug misuse, they make it safer and overdose less likely for those that use them. Part of the services at open injection sites also include information about treatment options, which means that those who use the sites will be exposed repeatedly to information about how to access treatment in case they wish to do so, information that they may not get if not for the site.
Some of these benefits are also available through needle exchange programs, which are legal and do exist in various cities including Denver. Needle exchanges do not allow people to inject at the site but do provide them with sterile needles and take their used ones to dispose of safely.