March 11, 2016

Mayor proposes legal heroin sites under medical supervision

Stateline - A bustling economy. Record-low unemployment. A ballooning heroin problem.

That’s how Mayor Svante Myrick describes Ithaca, New York, where he hopes to open the nation’s first safe injection facility — a place where heroin users could shoot their illegal drugs under medical supervision and without fear of arrest.

His proposal, part of a plan to address drug abuse in the 31,000-person college town in central New York, is not a novel idea. Safe injection sites, which also connect clients to treatment programs and offer emergency care to reverse overdoses, exist in 27 cities in other parts of the world. Some have been around for decades.

But no safe havens for injecting illegal drugs exist in the United States, which is experiencing an epidemic of opioid addiction and a rising tide of overdose deaths. Some lawmakers in California and Maryland want to change that and make legal what addiction specialists say is already going on at many clinics or needle-exchange programs across the country.

Proponents of the sites say they reduce the risk of dying from heroin use because addicts are drawn out from alleys, public restrooms and run-down buildings and into supervised settings where they can be quickly treated for overdose symptoms. Once there, access to clean needles reduces an addict’s exposure to infections, as well as diseases like hepatitis C and AIDS. And, supporters say, drug users are more likely to pursue addiction treatment once they develop trusting relationships with clinic staffers.

Other lawmakers, however, warn that supervised heroin shooting galleries run contrary to state and federal drug laws and would encourage illegal drug abuse.

Studies of safe injection sites, largely in Canada and Australia, have found that they help reduce overdoses and don’t increase drug use or trafficking in the communities where they’re located.

Sites in the United States could violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits possession of drugs such as heroin or cocaine or operating a place where people use them. But Congress could change the law or the U.S. Justice Department could make exceptions for the sites, said Leo Beletsky, a law and health sciences professor at Northeastern University.

Progressive Review - Back in the 1970s we suggested that you could buy drugs legally in Washington DC but only in the RFK stadium parking lot. Our theory was that many deadly drug crimes involved fights over dealer territory. About the same time a comedian proposed that you be able to buy heroin legally but you had to go to a hospital to get it.  -

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