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.

Opioids and Benzos – A Deadly Combination

Opioids and Benzos- two highly addictive drugs that can be obtained illegally or with the help of a physician can be a deadly combination when used together.

Opioids

Photo by: Dennis Yip

Opioids are a type of drug that binds to the opioid receptors in the body, reducing pain while increasing a sense of euphoria. Opioids can come in illegal forms such as heroin or fentanyl or they can be prescribed legally by a doctor. These prescription opioids include the popular:

• OxyContin;
• Morphine;
• Vicodin; and
• Codeine.

Opioids by themselves have caused tens of thousands of overdose deaths last year alone. They are highly addictive, quickly leading to dependency. They who are dependent on opioids commonly misuse them in extreme quantities. Misuse or overuse of opioids can result in respiratory distress and death.

Benzodiazepines (Benzos)

Another “feel good sedative”, Benzodiazepines are “a type of prescription sedative commonly prescribed for anxiety or the help with insomnia“ according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The go on to describe common [benzos] as “Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin.” Just like opioids, benzos can sedate a person too much, decreasing their breathing to dangerous levels. Combined, Opioids and Benzos are too often deadly.

A deadly combination

Photo by: Jason Rogers

On their website, NIH also states “More than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines”. With both drugs meant to sedate, it is highly likely that the combined effect of both drugs being used simultaneously can suppress breathing to the point of stopping completely. The respiratory system of users is so relaxed, it forgets to intake oxygen.

Help for those with addictions

Those who know individuals struggling with an opioid addiction, inform them of the dangers of mixing benzos with opioids even under a doctor’s care. Those fighting addiction are encouraged to instead look at “effective medications [that] exist to treat opioid use disorders [such as] methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.” Loved ones of addicts should consult with a doctor about obtaining the drug naloxone to reverse an overdose should the unthinkable happen when they are present.

LSD for Medicinal Use?

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a hallucinogen that was synthesized in the late 1930’s for experimental medicinal use and didn’t become an illegal, recreational drug until the 1960’s. Now LSD is trying to make a comeback in the medicinal field to treat several mood disorders.

Recreational to medicinal

Photo by: Mike Licht

A handful of drugs that were previously taken recreationally to “get high” have been making their way into the medical field to treat a variety of health issues.

• Methamphetamine, or speed, is an illegal drug that increases heartrate and blood pressure, decreases appetite, all the while causing the user to feel an extra sense of alertness. Adderall, which is also an amphetamine like meth was added to the market in 1996 to successfully help both kids and adults suffering from ADD, ADHD and narcolepsy.

• Opioids such as heroin are illegal while the closely related opioid morphine is used medically to manage pain.

• Marijuana is another illegal drug that that has been used recreationally for decades and after rediscovering its place in the medical field, is now legal to use with a prescription in 29 states and recreationally in eight.

Hallucinogen for medicine

Photo by: mattwalker69

Many hallucinogens such as ecstasy (MDMA), magic mushrooms, and now LSD are also finding their way into modern medicine to treat a variety of mood disorder issues including:

• Depression,
• Anxiety,
• Alcohol abuse,
• PTSD, and
• Fear and gloom associated with approaching end of life.

Research is currently being conducted on LSD and other hallucinogens to treat many of these mood disorders and is showing promising evidence of stabilizing some of these disorders for months at a time after a single “micro” dose. Participants of these research groups have described their experience on hallucinogens as being mind-opening, with a heightened sense of mental clarity and a better understanding of themselves and their place in life.

Research and decriminalization

Photo by: Helen Harrop

As research continues to show the medical benefits of drugs that were once considered illegal, there is promise that those suffering from mood disorders will be able to soon benefit from the effects of these mind and mood altering hallucinogens under the physician’s care without fear of legal repercussions.