Safe Injection Sites

Safe injection sites have been popping up around the world since the early 70’s and while the United States has considered the move to be controversial, there are some cities giving the idea a chance.

Heroin use in America

Photo by: Kiril pipo

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Heroin use has been increasing in recent years among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. . . During 2015, around 828,000 persons in the United States (12 years or older) used heroin in the past year, which is an estimated rate of 0.3 per 100 persons. And in 2014, more than 11,000 hospitalizations occurred for unintentional, heroin-related poisonings.” These statistics account for heroin use, not for other illicit drugs and do not include those persons who were untruthful or who did not participate when the gathering of this information occured.

Spread of disease

With drugs like heroin that are taken via injection comes an increase in disease spread by unsanitary conditions and dirty needles. The CDC estimates that “about 1 in 10 new HIV diagnoses in the United States are attributed to injection drug use or male-to-male sexual contact and injection drug use.” While diseases are spreading rampantly through the drug community, the general public is also at an increased risk in contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and viral hepatitis. Although some inject drugs at home, other use drugs such as heroin in public places including parks, bathrooms, public transportation, homeless camps, or discreet areas near businesses. Any member of the general public, including children, may come across used needles and other drug paraphernalia left out in these areas. Almost 40 states have implemented needle exchange programs in an effort to stop the spread of disease, but this may not be enough if users are too high to transport their dirty needles to these facilities.

Safe injection sites

Safe injection sites, otherwise known as supervised injection sites are areas set aside for users to use illegal drugs such as heroin. These safe injection sites offer access to clean needles and medical supervision as well as educational information regarding drug abuse. Safe injection sites have been gaining in popularity throughout Europe since the 1970’s with countries such as the Netherlands having more than 30 facilities in operation. The United States however has been slow to accept the idea of safe injection sites with authorities worried it will encourage drug use or appear as though state and government officials are endorsing the illegal activity.

Overdose Prevention

Photo by: Todd Huffman

While safe injection sites could help prevent the spread of disease, one of the most beneficial reasons for these facilities is reducing drug overdoses. The CDC has estimated that over the last year, at least 70,000 people have died from drug overdoses. Over just the last month, several cities throughout the country have experienced spikes of drug overdoses from illegal substances such as heroin to even marijuana which is legal in many areas throughout the country. These overdoses as of late have not been caused by users ingesting a greater quantity of the drugs, but from the drug itself being different from what they are used to. Some drug users may think they have an idea as to what their limits are when it comes to how much of a certain drug they can handle safely. Unfortunately, not all drugs are created equal, with some having a higher potency while others are might be cut with other harmful substances that can quickly cause a user to overdose. These other substances may include synthetic drugs such as Fentanyl or chemical fillers with unknown reactions when ingested. With medical staff standing by at safe injection sites, users can rest assured there will be someone there to render aid and overdose reversal drugs if needed.

Protection for users and the public

Fortunately a handful of cities throughout the United States including Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, and Philadelphia that are finally seeing the health benefits safe injections sites can offer to the public as well as drug users. Hopefully more areas of the country will accept these facilities but until then, friends and family of drug users are encouraged to keep drug reversal drugs on hand and to help their loved ones locate safe needle disposal locations in their area.

Utah Mother Arrested For Felony Child Abandonment

A Utah mother was arrested for felony child abandonment after authorities found her children to be living in deplorable circumstances.

Unsafe living conditions

39 year old Virginia Mary Martinez, a resident of the Shivwits Indian Reservation in Washington County, Utah was arrested after officers responding to a call about a loud verbal fight found Martinez living in a trashed trailer along with two small children. The young children, ages 2 and 3, were dirty and hungry with visible skin ailments due to the living conditions. The home Martinez and the children were living in was falling apart and crawling with bugs. After an investigation into the conditions at the Martinez home, the Division of Child and Family Services removed the toddlers and Martinez was arrested for child abandonment.

Child abandonment

Utah Code 76-5-109 regarding child abuse states: “Child abandonment’ means that a parent or legal guardian of a child;
• . . . Intentionally fails to make reasonable arrangements for the safety, care, and physical custody of the child; and
• . . . intentionally fails to provide the child with food, shelter, or clothing . . .
A person who commits child abandonment . . . [is] guilty of a felony of the third degree”.

Rehabilitation

Martinez is reported by a family member to have a possible drug problem and had admitted to not being able to obtain food for her children as she had no means of transportation. Now that Martinez has lost her children for an undetermined period and is behind bars, let this be an opportunity for her to obtain treatment for her addictions and hopefully be healthy enough to be reunited with her children later on. For more information on drug treatment options for those who are trying to raise children while fighting addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. For legal counsel contact a criminal defense attorney.

Counterfeit Pain Pills More Dangerous Than Originals

Thousands of counterfeit pain pills confiscated during a massive drug bust turned out to be more dangerous that the original prescriptions the bogus pills were imitating.

Distribution of pain pills

Drug bust

Photo by: Bill Brooks

Just a couple days prior to Thanksgiving, a man renting a home in Cottonwood Heights, Utah was arrested for what authorities are calling one of the largest drug busts in Utah’s history. The thousands of pills that 26 year old Aaron Michael Shamo was making and selling daily were being designed to look like popular pain pills such as Percocet and OxyContin, but instead contained an ingredient far more addictive and dangerous than oxycodone – Fentanyl. Detectives believe Shamo had sold and shipped the counterfeit pain pills throughout Utah as well as around the nation over the course of several months. The pain pills containing fentanyl could have reached millions of people over that span of time.

Fentanyl

Fentanyl is referred to as prescription heroin since users feel many of the same effects. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes fentanyl as “a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.” Due to this high potency, fentanyl is extremely dangerous and carries a greater risk of death. The CDC  stated that the “DEA describes fentanyl as a powerful narcotic associated with an epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States.” By taking black market pain pills without knowing the actual ingredients, an increased number of individuals are likely to overdose. Those who are frequent users of pain pills may receive a high from the counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl. Others who have a lower tolerance to opioids may suffer respiratory distress and die from a single pill.

Utah’s prescription drug problem was bad enough

pain pillsUtah has a major prescription drug problem. According to the Utah Department of Health, “Every month in Utah, 24 individuals die from prescription drug overdoses. Utah ranked 4th in the U.S. for drug poisoning deaths ( . . .)” They also stated that “59% of deaths from prescription pain medications involved oxycodone”. With so many drug overdoses from oxycodone itself, how many more would die when counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl are taken instead? The sad reality of Utah’s prescription drug problem is most of the residents who abuse prescription drugs got their start with a legal prescription from a doctor. Unable to fight the opioid’s addictive quality, many of those individuals turn to street drugs or street pills. Instead of receiving the help and rehabilitation they need, they may be getting a deadly dose of fentanyl.

Help on the horizon?

For those who have family or friends who are suffering from addiction, there is hope when a loved one takes one dose to many. Not only did Utah pass the Good Samaritan Law, allowing persons to report an overdose of another without fearing their own prosecution, but there are overdose reversing drugs such as Narcan (nalaxone) that can be prescribed to someone who is close to an addict. Narcan can safely reverse an overdose to heroin or opioids and is responsible for saving over 150 lives so far in Utah alone. Unfortunately however, the overdose reversal drugs are no match for high potency fentanyl, such as the as counterfeit pain pills being distributed in high quantities by Aaron Shamo.

Narcan

Photo by: Peretz Partensky

According to the CDC, “Multiple doses of naloxone [Narcon] may be needed to treat a fentanyl overdose because of its high potency.” If the person administering Narcan to a fentanyl overdose patient or loved one is unaware of the need for additional doses to combat the fentanyl, the victim may still die.

Education and treatment

With so many Utah residents suffering from addiction and dependency on pain pills, it is vital that those afflicted receive the help they need through residential drug treatment facilities. These facilities should be accessible to all either by voluntarily checking themselves in or if facing charges such as possession of schedule II drugs, mandatory treatment should be issued instead of jail time (for where little to no rehabilitation is available). To discuss drug charges and options for treatment, contact a criminal defense attorney. For a list of drug rehabilitation centers throughout Utah, contact the Department of Health.