The opioid crisis in the United States causes tens of thousands of deaths every year. Opioids are psychoactive drugs made from the opium plant. Drugs like morphine, heroin, and fentanyl are examples of opioids. Addiction is an overwhelming disorder that can affect anyone, of any race, age, or gender. Opioids are highly addictive, which many people don’t realize until it is too late.
In response to this crisis, many states are coming up with innovative ways to curb the epidemic. Help for those going through opioid addiction is advancing. In California, there are many addiction treatment facilities to support people in overcoming the problem. In addition to this, the government of California has been making moves to prevent and manage overdose deaths in an unlikely way. The government has proposed to set up sites where people can inject drugs safely. Some agree with their surprising solution to the issue, but some vehemently oppose it.
How Opioid Addiction Starts
There are many ways a person can become addicted to drugs. You may see people on the streets in your city and wonder how they got there. In some cases, people who suffer from illicit opioid addiction begin the addiction with a legally obtained prescription.
For example, oxycontin is a medically prescribed opioid for pain. Many people who eventually progress to shooting illicit opioids like heroin report having begun their addiction in this way. Perhaps they sustained a back injury and were prescribed this powerful opioid, then becoming physically and mentally dependent on the drug over time.
Like all substance addiction, it begins with initial use. Then it progresses to abusing the substance over time, such as using a drug for a purpose other than it is intended, using the drug for an extended period, or using higher doses than recommended. Over time in this cycle, a person will build up a tolerance to the drug. This means they will need to take more of the substance to experience the desired effect. When this happens, a person will up their dose and increase abuse of the substance. This behavior will eventually lead to physical and mental dependence on the drug over time.
Addiction can happen without a person realizing it. What may begin as a seemingly harmless recreational use can quickly develop into an addiction that could leave you financially struggling, unemployed, and even homeless.
Addiction causes a multitude of preventable overdose deaths each year. This fact is wreaking havoc on American societies and California believes that it has found an innovative solution. However, some people disagree.
Safe Injection Sites, California
Over a year ago, the government of California proposed creating legal injection sites to the State Senate. Even at this initial stage of the bill, it narrowly passed. The proposal is creating an almost equal division, but it made it through. Now, it is up to the members of the Assembly Public Safety Committee to decide whether or not to go through with the idea. The first sites will be experimental in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland. These experimental sites will run until 2028, with regular statistics being taken to assess if they are fit for their purpose. A full report on their impact, submitted by 2027, will determine if these sites come into law. If these test sites are shown to work, similar sites will be rolled out across the state.
These proposed sites work by allowing people to inject drugs like heroin in a safe and controlled environment. Studies have shown that people going through drug withdrawal are more likely to share needles and overdose. Needle sharing creates a host of issues such as the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B. At these safe injection sites, people shooting drugs will be supervised and Democratic Senator Scott Wiener states that no one has died on these supervised sites thus far.
This idea is built on the premise that people are going to shoot drugs either way. By providing a clean, safe, and supervised environment to do so, preventable overdose deaths will be successfully stopped. While this may be true, opposers are concerned about the potential knock-on effect of such sites.
Addiction Maintenance v.s. Addiction Recovery
The author of the book San Francisco: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, Michael Shellenberger, made a valid argument against this bill. He proposed that these injection sites promote addiction maintenance rather than addiction recovery. As these sites will enable people to continue using drugs, the question remains – how can governments encourage people to get off addictive substances? Can programs be put in place to encourage people on the street to overcome addiction, rather than simply not die from it?
Enabling drug addiction is not the only opposition either, and police forces in California are not completely convinced. The California Narcotic Officers’ Association has expressed valid concerns that these sites will draw more people to the area. It is no secret that crime rises in areas where drug addiction is rampant. These sites will likely lower overdose deaths while raising rates of death by other means. Republican Assemblyman Kelly Seyarto states that in his opinion, these sites simply enable addiction and put the safety of the greater public at risk. He believes that the focus should not be on enabling behavior, but on breaking the cycle of addiction completely.
Benefits of the New Bill
While there are valid arguments against these injection sites, there is no denying that the opioid crisis has become a pandemic. With the most recent wave involving the highly potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl, something urgently needs to be done. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that drug overdoses in the US increased by 28.5% in one year, ending in 2021. These deaths are preventable and safe injection sites will no doubt lower these numbers. While the creation of these sites may initially seem unconventional, in the words of board member Vitka Eisen, “In the face of a crisis, we must do things differently.” New issues require new solutions.
The Future of Addiction
Drug addiction is a sensitive and emotional topic for millions of Americans. Many people have lost loved ones to drug addiction, their efforts to save them being unsuccessful. People in this situation will likely attest to the fact that they would rather see people safely using drugs than lose their life to the drugs on the street. While this is understandable, surely with enough resources, we can do better. While safe injection sites are effective in preventing overdose deaths, they should only be seen as a stepping stone. The real question remains: how can governments help people suffering from addiction get their lives back?