As Minneapolis Government Mulls Supervised Injection Sites, Evidence Suggests They Don’t Work
From 2015 to 2016, opiate-related overdose deaths rose 57.7 percent in Hennepin County (from 97 to 153). As heroin use has become more frequent, City of Minneapolis officials, like city council member Jeremiah Ellison, have urged the city to look into providing supervised injection sites, where opiate use is supervised by medical professionals.
Proponents of these sites argue they will reduce overdose deaths and reduce the transmission of diseases commonly spread by unclean needles. However, a recent study examining the scientific literature on this subject found these sites make little to no discernible difference.
Vox recently wrote a story detailing the findings of this study:
“According to a new review of the research published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, safe consumption sites appear to have only a small favorable relation to drug-related crimes but no significant effect on several other outcomes, including overdose mortality and syringe sharing.”
the likely truth is supervised consumption sites work “really little.” It’s not that they don’t have any effect, but that the effect is likely so small that it’s not going to be picked up at a population level by the research.
Rather than enabling people to use opioids, City Council Members seeking to make a discernible, evidence-based improvement on the lives of addicts would be better suited by helping people access medications like methadone and buprenorphine, which have decades of evidence behind them demonstrating that they reduce the mortality rate among opioid addiction patients.
According to Vox:
“When France relaxed restrictions on doctors prescribing buprenorphine in response to its own opioid crisis in 1995, the number of people in treatment rose and overdose deaths fell by 79 percent over the following four years.”
Efforts to reduce overdose deaths should be supported by the best-possible evidence, however the empirical research examining the effectiveness of supervised injection sites do not support the claims made by their proponents. Pouring time and money into this kind of intervention may not be as evidence-based as people think.