Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are urging Baltimore to open two facilities that provide people a safe place to do drugs, the Baltimore Sun reports. In a report published by the nonprofit Abell Foundation, researchers suggest opening one facility each on the city’s east and west sides. They say the offices would prevent overdose deaths and other harms that addicts face. While the idea of so-called “safe-drug consumption spaces” is just starting to gain traction in the U.S., such facilities have helped stop deaths in other countries. There are 97 safe spaces in 66 cities and 11 nations, the report says. The U.S. faces a growing opioid epidemic that shows little sign of easing. In Baltimore alone, an estimated 19,000 people inject drugs, and there were 481 fatal overdose deaths during the first nine months of 2016, a 65 percent increase over the same period the year before.
“It is a public health emergency and we need every single evidence-based tool that is at our disposal,” said Susan Sherman, a professor at the Bloomberg School and the report’s lead author. Sherman acknowledged there are legal hurdles, and critics blasted the idea. One said the government should focus its efforts on opening more treatment facilities. “The government should be spending our resources on helping people get off drugs, not helping them get high,” said Mike Gimbel, former director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse. The proposed facilities would be akin to allowing legal drug dealing, Gimble said. He said addicts likely wouldn’t use the centers because they like to get high several times a day and it would be inconvenient to travel to a center. They also might fear the police are watching, he said.