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As we all know there is an ever growing opioid epidemic in Connecticut. We are continuously hearing of people dying of overdose deaths from heroin. Now even fentanyl, a extrmemely potent opiate which is being used to lace many of the heroin batches dealers are selling, has become a household word. Between 2014 and 2015 alone, overdose deaths in the state increased by 25.6 percent, the sixth highest rate of increase in the nation during that time period. And chances are, given the prevalence of opioid abuse in the region (no state in New England saw less than a 20% increase during that same period, with Maine (+26.2%), New Hampshire (+30.9%) and Massachusetts (+35.3%) all seeing even larger increases) this problem will not be eliminated any time soon.
With an ever increasing number of people dying from a cause as preventable (and sometimes even reversible with life saving antidotes like naloxone) as opiate overdose, it’s essential that we’re doing everything within our means to practice prevention as a community. This includes what we are already doing, including both education (on causes, risks and manifestations of substance use disorders) and treatment (for addiction but also for co-occurring disorders such as depression which may be driving the addictive self-medicating behavior). But it also means exploring new and novel approaches to combating this public health crisis. Supervised Injection Facilities are an example of innovative thinking around this issue.
According to The Drug Policy Alliance, Supervised Injection Facilities (SIFs) are “legally sanctioned facilities where people who use intravenous drugs can inject pre-obtained drugs under medical supervision […] designed to reduce the health and societal problems associated with injection drug use”. While these facilities already exist across Europe, in Australia and Canada, no such facility is currently operating in the United States.
That being said, there is an organized effort to start opening these facilities which have been shown to have a positive impact on both individuals and communities. Just north of Connecticut, the Massachusetts Medical Association overwhelming approved a measure last month which seeks to establish a safe injection facility pilot project in that state. Similar efforts are being made in Vermont, Ithaca, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Connecticut needs to step up and join in these efforts to provide as many options as possible to help combat the opioid crisis. With the state budget in crisis and cuts being made left and right to social and other support services, this problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. I believe that by not having safe places for people to use drugs, we are asking for trouble. By providing safe, supervised facilities for people to use their drugs, seek treatment and exchange their needles, we are taking available steps to mitigate the harm that this epidemic is causing. As mental health advocates, we need to continue to advocate for all possible care for those dealing with mental illness and addiction. Supervised Injection Facilities, as uncomfortable as they may be to think about, are one such option.
I do not know how to even describe what’s going on but it’s really sad. At first, I thought this was literally a trend… but as the days went on and the numbers increased, I saw that it was more than that. CT has always had an opioid problem… a drug problem overall… it’s just been swept under the rug. People in urban communities have been living with this issue for more years than I can count and I have not seen as much push to “figure things out” than I have in the past year since the drugs have found its way into suburbia. Now that there have been so many reports of near death, drug related instances or overdoses in our beloved communities, we are seeing a huge shift in priority.
Im not sure where to start or if providing facilities for people to use their drugs is the answer, but at this point, anything is worth a shot. Something needs to be done… I hope it doesnt get worse before it gets better… families cannot afford it emotionally, physically or financially.
As an addict in recovery who has lost more friends than I would like to admit to heroin overdoses, especially this past year – the thought of a Supervised Injection Facility honestly makes me sick. I don’t know what the answer or solution is to what is happening, but I really don’t think this is. In my opinion, it is another form of enabling. We need to educationally and medically promote recovery and abstinence. I feel that a facility of that nature is saying it is okay to use and continue to use. This doesn’t eliminate the sick, dark destruction of active addiction – the living nightmare. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine myself even going to one of those places while using. When I was active, I used as soon as I copped – no matter where I was and prayed for death. I know everyone is different with different experiences and situations, but this seems like a band-aid. Let’s allow these addicts to do their thing and as long as we can for the meantime make sure they leave alive, we are doing are job.
Like I said, this is just my opinion and maybe it is a harsh one. I don’t have the answer, I guess we have to act desperately for desperate times.
Thank you for you insightful comment Courtney – I appreciate you sharing about your own lived experience and how that informs your opinion. I agree that we need to continue to widely promote recovery and the abstinence. The picture is so grim lately, that as challenging as the thought of safe use center were to me at first, I now feel that so long as it can help to save lives by preventing overdose and/or disease, than I think it should be an available option. I hope that a combination of these various strategies will allow people to stay alive long enough to get the treatment and support that they need to enter recovery and (hopefully) eventually abstain.
Thank you Rai for you insightful comment as well. You bring up an important issue – how identity can play a role in the political response to crises such as the opioid epidemic. I have a co-worker who always says “the opioid crisis has been happening for years”. While there has been a dramatic increase in use and overdose in recent years, the fact is that certain communities have been dealing with these issues for generations. Why is it if urban communities (read communities of color) have been dealing with this for “more years than [we] can count” but now that our beloved suburban communities (read white communities) are dealing with it, it’s now a political priority across the board? I understand that not every urban community includes only people of color or that every suburban community is exclusively white – but generally speaking those have been historic trends and the communities hold these strong associations with race (and socio-economic status) in many people’s minds. That being said, who – politically speaking – is worth making substantial policy change for? This was an issue in the early years of the AIDS epidemic as well. Originally called GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency), AIDS wasn’t even mentioned by President Reagan until years into the crisis, after it was confirmed that AIDS was in fact not confined only to gay men. It’s unfortunate that the identity of the person suffering too often determines society’s response to that suffering.
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