The positives of safe drug sites

Mar 19, 2020

In a recent opinion article published in the Calgary Herald, Prof. Benjamin Perrin, discussed the benefits of safe injection sites. Prof. Perrin is a law professor at the University of British Columbia and author of the upcoming book Overdose: Heartbreak and Hope in Canada’s Opioid Crisis, and has carried out an extensive research literature review regarding the use of supervised consumption sites.

Supervised injection sites, such as Insite in Vancouver, Canada, are locations where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of trained staff present, who can respond in case of an overdose. These sites also ensure access to clean needles and other necessary supplies to prevent the risk of overdose and spread of deadly diseases.

In his opinion article, Prof. Perrin states that he previously held the view that supervised consumption sites were a “horrible idea.” However, due to exponentially increasing numbers of overdose deaths, he had examined available data regarding safe injection site use, which influenced him to change his outlook.

According to Prof. Perrin’s research, seven community-based supervised consumption sites in Alberta have had 307,793 visits between January 2018 and September 2019. In that time there were 4,587 overdoses, which were all reversed without a single death. The researcher cited stigma of illicit drug use, its criminalization and lack of safe places to do drugs as primary reasons for drug users dying of overdose alone.

“By denying them a safe place to use the drugs they’re addicted to, they are forced to play Russian roulette with a toxic street drug supply. That’s unconscionable,”

Prof. Benjamin Perrin, law professor at the University of British Columbia

So far, research has demonstrated that safe injection sites have been effective in reducing risk of overdose and death. In addition, other studies have shown that safe injection sites significantly decrease the risk of hepatitis and HIV infection.

Prof. Perrin also noted the cost effectiveness of supervised consumption sites compared to professional emergency first responders in terms of managing overdoses. He also described their benefits in terms of providing drug users options for recovery programs – citing the fact that Insite visitors were 1.7 times more likely to enter treatment programs.

Moreover, according to Prof. Perrin, there is currently no evidence that supervised consumption sites enable or promote drug use.

“Studies found the average Insite client had been using drugs for 16 years. Out of 1,065 people in that study, only one person performed their first injection at Insite,”

Prof. Benjamin Perrin, law professor at the University of British Columbia

So far, over one hundred supervised consumptions sites are operating globally, many of which are located in North America and Europe. “There have been over 100 peer-reviewed studies providing overwhelming support for supervised consumption sites. No one has ever died from an illicit drug overdose at one anywhere in the world. Instead, if they overdose there’s someone there to revive them. They have a perfect record,” said Prof. Perrin.

Prof. Perrin’s upcoming book Overdose: Heartbreak and Hope in Canada’s Opioid Crisis (Viking) takes a hard look at Canada’s opioid crisis and those it has affected, with a national call to action as well as concrete ideas on how to improve the situation.