Safe Drug Spaces Alone Won’t Solve Our Addiction Crisis

Our country’s first ‘monitored injection sites’ are now operational in New York, and we are entering a new era of substance use treatment. Evidence shows that this practice, known as “harm reduction” works.  It allows substance abusers to be monitored and potentially revived if they inject a fatal dose.  But my forty years of treating individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) makes me wish we were taking the opportunity to interface with these ‘at risk’ individuals and give them a better opportunity to seek recovery through treatment.

What are Safe Consumption Spaces?

Safe consumption spaces (SCS) are places where individuals may take drugs in an indoor atmosphere while being monitored by trained medical personnel. SCS sites have been shown to do the following:

  • Reduce the number of fatal overdoses
  • Lower the number of syringes disposed of in public
  • Decrease the number of drugs used by the general public

Most of the research attributed to SCS research in the U.S. is focused on persons who inject drugs(PWID), especially those who do so in urban settings. These sites are also labeled as overdose prevention centers (OPCs).

Addiction Is Complicated and Counterintuitive

When making judgments concerning safe consumption sites, it is important to take into account the user’s ‘lack of control’ over his or her habit. For the uninitiated, the idea that an expensive drug habit is pursued unwillingly seems incomprehensible. Many in our society see addictive behaviors as a choice, but it’s much more complicated than that

As addiction progresses, the patient loses his or her ability to manage their drug use. More of the drug, in the addict’s mind, is needed to survive. Even everyday responsibilities, such as child care, are overlooked when a person abuses drugs.

With no support system in place, the user lacks both the power and self-confidence to manage effectively. Therefore, access to an SCS can make all the difference for someone who is experiencing an addiction problem.

Addiction Interventions in Safe Consumption Spaces

Setting up a safe drug space should also focus on the eventual goal of abstinence.  Safe consumption spaces provide a golden opportunity to interface with users and give them the opportunity to pursue treatment.

Today, there are more and better life-saving recovery programs available than ever before. These programs give people the help they need to overcome their addictions and improve their quality of life.  There are also more medications available that can decrease the cravings of the newly sober person.

Making Rehab Available and the Ultimate Objective

Users who partake in safe drug spaces should be required to complete some steps to bring them closer to pursuing abstinence-based recovery.  They should be required to at least acknowledge what programs are available to help them stop abusing drugs and alcohol. Ideally, they would talk one-on-one with the counselor who is skilled in reaching addicted individuals and convincing them to accept help.

At-risk individuals should know they can get the care they need without fear.

Advancements in medicines that counteract cravings for drugs and minimize withdrawal symptoms are used in medication assisted treatment (MAT) programs today.  When intervention is medically supervised and combined with counseling, success rates are often impressive – often above 80%.

At a minimum, we should ensure that every user who enters an SCS site acknowledges the existence of recovery programs that are available to them, free of charge. Supporting the user in all these respects is what makes the concept of providing an SCS or OPC workable and achievable.

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman has been helping men and women recover from addiction for almost 40 years. He is the CEO of Confidential Recovery, a treatment program in San Diego that specializes in helping executives, veterans, and first responders recover from an addiction to drugs or alcohol.