Fired Up: Safe injection sites are needed

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photo by Caitlyn Hale

Fired Up is a monthly column by Lifestyles Editor Sophia Canabal.

In 2021, OnPoint NYC was the first supervised injection site in the U.S. Intended to provide harm reduction by providing clean supplies and substances and overdose surveillance. The facility specializes in a fairly new, harm reduction approach to overdose prevention. In its first three weeks of operation, the center prevented 59 overdoses. Two years after it opened, OnPoint has now expanded its services to include HIV and Hepatitis C testing, as well as mental health services. 

Yet, despite their success, critics have recently risen up against OnPoint, and harm reduction sites in general, with the prediction that supervised injection sites make communities more vulnerable to public drug usage as one of their main concerns. Others view harm reduction techniques as ineffective, claiming that providing addicts with substances is not effective in recovery. Despite critics’ claims, harm reduction is the only viable solution left to solve the public health risks that addiction poses. 

A study by the Department of Criminal Justice found that 85% of those incarcerated within the U.S. prison system were active substance abusers at the time of their arrest or currently, resulting in a lack of empathy towards those suffering from a substance abuse disorder. Critics that refuse to acknowledge the effectiveness of harm reduction practices, which prioritize quality of life and empathy, only strengthen this misconception. Harm reduction not only proves that clinics don’t have to resort to “tough love” when treating addicts, but it also addresses the widespread risk of overdose at its root cause—unreliable drug supply. According to a study by the Center for Disease Control, there were 70,000 overdoses in the US involving fentanyl in 2012, and opioid and heroin addicts are especially at risk. While harm reduction critics have argued that providing addicts with clean supplies only enables them to use, it also ensures that if they do, they are not at risk of an overdose due to a substance like fentanyl. The harm reduction approach does not only prevent overdose, it addresses addiction as the global issue that it is rather than an individual affliction that is caused by the addict. 

While similar clinics in Australia have attested to OnPoint’s potential, there is still a long way to go before this approach can truly make an impact. Many critics of OnPoint hold concerns for the uneven distribution of social services across the nation, with communities like Harlem and Washington Heights hosting a disproportionately large number of clinics and surrounding neighborhoods containing little to no clinics. Safe injections sites work, but to truly win the trust of the public, officials should work to make them accessible to members of every community.

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