It’s no secret that intravenous drug use poses major risks. While other forms of drug use carry a risk of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission, people who inject drugs by far have the highest risk. To put that in perspective a little better, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports:
Injection drug users represented 8 percent of new HIV infections in 2010 and 15 percent of those living with HIV in 2011. Since the epidemic began, nearly 186,728 people with (AIDS) who inject drugs have died, including an estimated 3,514 in 2012. Half of those infected were either aware of their status or chose not disclose it when sharing needles with other IV drug users.
To help address this problem, a street activist in Seattle recently announced plans to open the nation’s first safe injection site. The operation itself will come in the form of a mobile van that will also dispense clean needles and syringes throughout the area.
Making a Difference or Making Waves?
Shilo Murphy, executive director of the nonprofit People’s Harm Reduction Alliance, wants to have the mobile safe consumption space ready to go this spring. He hopes to mobilize a team of 200 volunteers to pass out more than four million syringes by the end of the year, in addition to clean meth pipes and alcohol swabs. Murphy is trying to raise $150,000 to cover the initial startup costs by obtaining grants and fundraising efforts.
“Think of the benefits of a safe injection site,” he said. “No needles on the ground, rapid response for those needing detox, connections to sources and services — and a nurse!”
If you’re wondering how Murphy can set up an injection site, it’s definitely worth pointing out that much of what he’s doing is illegal by state law. Despite that, he has managed to round up the support of several key government officials and high-ranking members of law enforcement in Washington. Seattle Mayor Ed Murphy is on board with the concept and King County Sheriff John Urquhart also said he was open to it because “we will never make any headway in the war on drugs until we turn the war into a health issue.”
Hoping for Results
Murphy’s idea was largely inspired by InSite, a government-supported injection facility in Vancouver, Canada. InSite is the only legal facility of its kind in North America. Studies have shown that the site has drastically reduced rates of HIV and Hepatitis C among intravenous drug users in the area.
Safe injection sites aim to drastically reduce – or even eliminate – a major health crisis caused by IV drug use and put users in a better position to seek help when they’re ready to get clean and sober. Make no mistake, however, even the Vancouver operation receives its fair share of flack. After InSite had a record number of overdose fatalities occur on its property last year, many people began asking one very important question: Just how safe can a safe injection site really be?
Additional Reading: Occasional IV Heroin Abuse Worsens HIV Symptoms
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