With the opioid epidemic growing every day, desperate cities and health officials are considering alternative ways to help those who are suffering from addiction. Two such alternative ideas are safe injection sites and warm handoffs.
Cities and states across the United States are starting to consider opening safe injection sites. A safe injection site are spots where illegal drug users, like those addicted to heroin, could inject drugs under the supervision of a medical professional. Then, if they were to overdose, the medical professional would save their life and potentially help them find addiction treatment.
Currently, there are 13 cities in the U.S. trying to start official supervised injection sites, including Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco. Philadelphia estimates they would be able to save up to 75 lives a year with these sites.
While the sites would help with the number of overdose deaths, they don’t come without controversy. Some fear government retribution. In a statement issued last year by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Vermont, officials said medical professionals working at supervised injection sites would be subject to criminal charges.
Vancouver, Canada has operated a safe injection site, Insite, for 15 years. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that because the site saves lives, it should be exempt from federal laws prohibiting drug use.
Warm handoffs are another resource in the fight against opioid addiction. A warm handoff is an approach where a health provider introduces their patient to a substance abuse specialist face-to-face. The health provider would directly refer the patient to substance abuse treatment.
Typically, when a person who overdosed is brought to the emergency room, once they’ve stabilized they’re either sent home or given a referral card. With warm handoffs, a team will meet with the overdose survivor and their family in the emergency room, and try to convince the survivor to seek treatment. A survivor reserves the legal right to refuse treatment, but if they accept it then they are transferred into a program.
Even survivors who decline treatment are briefed on the options available to them. This helps them know what they can do if they later decide to try and overcome their addiction.
Both programs are designed to help keep those suffering from addiction alive and understand what their options for recovery are. Though safe injection sites are not yet a reality in the United States, the warm handoff program is already being utilized throughout the state of Pennsylvania to strong results.