Debunking the Stigma of Safe Injection Sites

Debunking the Stigma of Safe Injection Sites

Startling statistics show that the United States has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the world. While the United States’ population is estimated to be around 4 percent of the world’s population, it has approximately 27 percent of the world’s drug overdose deaths [9]. The number of individuals who have died of drug overdose in 2017 was more than the number of those who have died of suicide, homicide, or car accidents all together [3]. As an attempt to combat drug overdose deaths, safe injection sites have recently become a part of  popular discussion in New York since Mayor de Blasio proposed the opening of four facilities in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn [1]. Some officials are considering launching these facilities in other areas of the country, such as Seattle, Philadelphia, and San Francisco [1, 7]. However, public backlash and the fact that safe injection sites are illegal under federal law stand in the way of launching these facilities. I argue that the illegality of safe injection sites in the United States is hindering the progress that could be made towards saving the lives of drug users.

Safe injection sites legally exist in other areas around the world, such as Canada, which opened the first site in North America in 2003 [2]. Evidence has proven that the creation of safe injection sites in these locations has been successful in developing healthier lives for users and has had an overall positive impact on the community [8]. For instance, safe injection sites in Canada have reported a 35% decrease in overdose rates, as well as a 30% increase in the number of those who have opted for treatment.

Moreover, an example of potential positive impact includes research done by an epidemiologist named Alex Kral which has shown that the launching of “a single 13-booth facility [in San Francisco] would lead to $3.5 million in net annual savings” for the city [5].

However, the public have voiced concerns about the possibility of launching safe injection sites, arguing that it could become a safety hazard to their families, due to the fact that these sites will be placed in neighborhoods within the vicinity of  children’s schools. These concerns highlight the stigma surrounding such facilities and the stereotype of drug users as individuals of a certain social class, minority, or have criminal background, when in fact, anyone could be a user [10]. The president and CEO of Housing Works in New York, Charles King, has commented on the fact that many falsely believe that the launching of safe injection sites has any negative impact on the community. He states, “It’s not just the homeless man in tatters babbling on a street corner” but “it might be someone who looks like they’re going to work, and they probably are going to work” [2, 6]. The United States has a long history of criminalizing drug usage with its war on drugs, and therefore it comes as no surprise that there is a stigma or that the creation of these sites is, indeed, illegal.

The public have also raised the issue that safe injection sites will further enable users to have access to drugs, and as a result, create more drug users [11]. Yet, this is not the case due to the fact that safe injection sites merely provide sterile equipment, whereas users bring their drugs. The motives behind these facilities include reducing the number of overdose deaths, as well as limiting the use of drugs in public and promoting treatment for individuals who use drugs.  At these facilities, individuals have access to sterile needles and are able to discard used needles in a hygienic manner, which inhibits the spread of HIV and hepatitis [1]. While some take issue with the belief that these facilities do not do enough to encourage treatment, due to the fact that these sites focus on providing clean needles, this claim is misguided since users are also likely to seek treatment at these facilities. Users who come to safe injection sites are not only surrounded by healthcare professionals who have the ability to take medical action in case of overdose, but are also finally within reach of treatment plans [2].

Additionally, these sites give individuals who use drugs the chance to belong to a community that affects their lives for the better, as opposed to being shunned by society which is usually the case [4]. For example, a safe injection site in Canada that actually provides users with drugs (though providing drugs is uncommon for these facilities) many individuals who use drugs have noted the fact that safe injection sites have paved a way to a brighter future by allowing them the opportunity to find employment opportunities and make enough money to rent an apartment, due to the fact that all their energy and resources are no longer being dedicated to stealing or providing sex services in exchange for money. It is important to note the fact  that safe injection sites have also granted users a sense of self-respect they did not enjoy beforehand one clinical nurse highlights, stating that users no longer view themselves as a “dirty user” but instead as one “receiving treatment” [8].

The time has come to reevaluate the ways in which we treat drug users and perceive of the drug crisis as a whole. Delving into different methods of dealing with the drug problem within the United States and implementing safe injection sites is a step towards creating a welcoming community that users have been denied. By opposing the institution of safe injection sites, despite evidence of its success in lowering the spread of disease and drug-related death while also paving the way towards a happier and healthier life for users, only prevents the progress that could be achieved.


  1. Chayes, Matthew. "Safe Drug Injection Sites Endorsed by De Blasio." Am New York. May 08, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.

  2. Chayes, Matthew. "Safe Drug Injection Sites Endorsed by De Blasio." Am New York. May 08, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.

  3. Overdose Prevention in New York City: Supervised Injection as a Strategy to Reduce Opioid Overdose and Public Injection. Report. NYC Health, 2018.

  4. "Transcript: Mayor De Blasio Appears Live on the Brian Lehrer Show." Zoning Districts & Tools : C6 - DCP. May 04, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.

  5. Cunningham, Paige Winfield. "Analysis | The Health 202: Supervised Injection Facilities Are Illegal in the United States. These Cities Want to Open Them Anyway." The Washington Post. April 30, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.

  6. "About SIFs." 2017. Accessed May 30, 2018.

  7. Gutman, David. "Safe Heroin Injection Sites Get OK from King County Health Board." The Seattle Times. January 19, 2017. Accessed May 30, 2018.

  8. Bernstein, Lenny. "At the Heart of Canada's Fentanyl Crisis, Extreme Efforts That U.S. Cities May Follow." The Washington Post. February 11, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.

  9. Lopez, German. “America leads the world in drug overdose deaths - by a lot.” Vox. June 28, 2017. Accessed May 30, 2018.

  10. Patterson, Eric. “Top 10 Myths (and Realities) About Drug Addiction.” Accessed May 30, 2018.

  11. Oxley, Dyer. “Out of site: A flaw in anti-safe injection arguments.” MYNorthwest. May 19, 2017. Accessed May 30, 2018.

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