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Safe Consumption Sites Could Help Reduce Drug Overdose Deaths Across U.S.

Data shows benefit of allowing people to inject drugs in a supervised environment

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Researchers at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, and the University of California, San Diego, recently published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluating the use of an unsanctioned safe drug consumption site in the U.S. Funding for this research was provided by Arnold Ventures. Data was collected over a five-year period, from the inception of the site in 2014 to 2019 and showed that implementing these sites could lead to reductions in overdose mortality.

The site, at an undisclosed location for privacy protection, allowed people to inject illicit drugs under the supervision of personnel trained to provide counseling, drug overdose intervention, and contact emergency services, as needed. In the five-year span, over 10,500 injections took place and 33 resulted in opioid overdoses – all reversed by staff trained to inject naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose. None of the 33 overdoses required calling 911 for assistance.

“We know that nearly 70,000 people die each year from drug overdoses in the U.S.” said Alex Kral, PhD, an epidemiologist at RTI. “Implementing safe consumption sites could lead to a reduction in deaths, and studies from other countries with sanctioned injection sites have shown reductions in the risk of infectious disease, drug use, and increased access to health and social services.” 

Access to the site was by invitation only. Individuals had to be at least 18 years of age, have a history of prior illicit drug use, and come to the site with their own pre-obtained drugs. Upon entry, participants were required to answer a series of questions regarding demographics and drug use. Sterile syringes and injection equipment were provided, as well as a staff member to assist with the injection if requested.

“Sanctioning these sites could help allow linkages to other medical and social services including substance use treatment,” said Kral. “The sites could also help reduce problems that we see across communities, such as public drug use and improperly discarded syringes.”

Over the five-year period, the number of injections and the number of overdoses both increased. The type of drugs used at the site changed significantly with the use of a combination of opioid and stimulant drugs increasing by 55%. 

There were no overdose deaths recorded at the site.

To read the full study, click here.