As Philadelphia reels from last year’s 910 fatal drug overdoses, local officials, medical professionals, and philanthropic organizations are considering a controversial idea: Opening special facilities where heroin users can inject drugs safely, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Desperate times call for innovative measures,” said Priya Mammen of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. “We’re in a position now where we have to rethink everything.” Yesterday, the idea of “safer injection sites” was proposed at a meeting of the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic, which Mammen and at least 50 others attended.
The proposal calls for a pilot program to reduce fatal overdoses by providing medical supervision. If users get too much heroin, or a product that’s boosted by a synthetic opioid like fentanyl, their breathing stops. Quick intervention with the rescue drug naloxone reverses the drug’s effect, reviving the person. The sites, paid for through philanthropy, not public funds, would be staffed by a nurse or doctor, and would be in Philadelphia’s worst-hit neighborhoods. The facilities, called Comprehensive User Engagement Sites (CUES), would direct people who use IV drugs to treatment and social services, provide wound care for what can be severe injection-related infections, and supply sterile injection equipment. Nearly 100 safe-injection facilities operate globally — primarily in Europe. In the English-speaking world, legal facilities operate only in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Sydney, Australia.