by Aviv Klayman ‘24
Within the last year, Covid-19 related deaths have consumed many Americans’ worries; however, a different problem has been shadowed by the virus. Since April 2020, a record of almost 100,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses. In comparison, 70,630 people died of a drug overdose in 2019, which shows an increase of 28.5 percent. Staying home during the lockdown especially affected those who had preexisting drug addiction, and caused them to relapse.
The Biden administration has made steps towards the reduction of the use of drugs and supporting those who have drug addictions. The administration created the American Rescue Plan, which has sent around $4 billion to expand and improve services in substance use disorder and mental health. One controversial method, which the administration has explicitly rejected, that has been used by Canada and the UK is the creation of safe consumption sites. These sites are places where addicts can take illegal drugs under the watchful eye of health professionals and be able to use clean and sterile equipment to inject themselves.
In an interview in late October, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra mentioned the idea of implementing safe consumption sites in big cities such as New York and Philadelphia. However, HHS took back this position and strongly noted that they will remain neutral in the argument.
On November 30, New York City opened the first American safe consumption site. Backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the site may lead to the creation of sites around the United States. These safe consumption sites will not be able to completely stop drug overdoses in America, but they will be able to reduce the number of deaths until a more permanent solution is implemented.
In Canada between 2017 and 2019, there were around 2 million visits to safe consumption sites. Of those 2 million visits there were only around 15,000 drug-related emergencies with zero reported on-site deaths. In the UK, even though drug-related deaths have been increasing recently, the highest number of drug-related deaths in England and Wales combined was 4,561, which occurred in 2020. This is equivalent to around 79.5 deaths per million. In 2019, the United States had around 216 deaths per million.
Reported by the New England Journal of Medicine, another example of where safe consumption sites have been tried and tested was in an unsanctioned safe consumption site in an undisclosed city in the U.S. The site opened in 2014, and from 2014 to 2019, had a total of 10,514 injections and only had 33 overdoses. Of these 33 overdoses, there was not a single death. This one attempt works as a sneak peek of what these safe consumption sites can accomplish.
Even though safe consumption sites won’t be able to completely stop drug overdoses and drug-related deaths in America, they will be able to help many people who do have drug addictions. Until a better method is thought of to stop the gushing wound that are drug deaths in America, these safe consumption sites can act as a band-aid for the time being.