Pubdate: Mon, 09 May 2016
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: David Klepper, Associated Press


The idea, spurred by a rise in drug overdose deaths in the U.S., has 
worked elsewhere

Across the United States, heroin and other drug users have died in 
alleys behind convenience stores, on city sidewalks and in the 
bathrooms of fast-food joints - because no one was around to save 
them when they overdosed.

An alarming 47,000 American overdose deaths in 2014 has pushed 
elected leaders from coast to coast to consider government-sanctioned 
sites where heroin users could shoot up under the supervision of a 
doctor or nurse who could administer an antidote if necessary.

"Things are getting out of control. We have to find things we can do 
for people who are addicted now," said New York state Assemblywoman 
Linda Rosenthal, who is working on legislation to allow supervised 
injection sites that would also include space for treatment services. 
"The idea shouldn't be dismissed out of hand."

Critics of the war on drugs have long talked about the need for a new 
approach to addiction, but the idea for supervised injection sites is 
now coming from state lawmakers in New York, Maryland and California, 
and city officials in Seattle, San Francisco and Ithaca, N.Y.

While such sites have operated for years in places such as Canada, 
the Netherlands and Australia, they face legal and political 
challenges in the U.S.

"It's a dangerous idea," said John Walters, drug czar under President 
George W. Bush. "It's advocated by people who seem to think that the 
way we should help sick people is by keeping them sick, but comfortably sick."

At Sydney's Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, more than 5,900 
people have overdosed since it opened in 2001. No one has died. It's 
the same at Insite in Vancouver, British Columbia. About 20 overdoses 
happen there every week, but the facility has yet to record a death.

Sydney's facility is tucked between a hostel and a Chinese restaurant 
in the red-light district. Up to 16 users can shoot up in the 
injection room, which resembles a doctor's office. Staffers are not 
allowed to administer drugs, though clean needles are provided.

After getting their fix, clients head to a second room with a warmer 
feel. Colored Christmas lights hang from the ceiling; books and 
magazines line the shelves. Clients can relax with coffee or tea or 
talk to staff. Some stay for 15 minutes; others spend hours. They 
leave through a back door to protect their privacy.

An Amsterdam clinic - one of three in the Dutch capital - goes even 
further, distributing free, government-paid heroin to long-term 
addicts so they don't have to commit a crime to pay for their fix.

In Vancouver, Insite offers patients treatment services just up the 
stairs from where they shoot up.

Rhea Jean spoke to the AP after recently injecting herself there. She 
felt nauseous and ran outside to the curb to vomit. Her face covered 
with scabs, the longtime heroin user looks far older than her 33 years.

"It's a great place for active users in full-blown addiction. It 
links you up to other programs," said Jean, who hasn't sought 
treatment through Insite.

The Vancouver facility was targeted for closure by Canadian Prime 
Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party. The case went to 
the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 2011 told the government to 
issue an exemption to the drug laws allowing Insite to operate.

In the U.S., which for decades has treated addiction as a law 
enforcement issue, the biggest hurdle remains federal law, which 
makes such facilities illegal. Supporters say officials in the 
nation's capital could grant an exemption or adopt a hands-off 
approach similar to the federal government's response to state 
medical marijuana programs.

Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser to the Obama 
administration, put the chances of injection sites getting approval 
anytime soon at zero.

"These facilities send a message that there is a safe use, and I 
don't think there is any safe use of heroin," said California state 
Assemblyman Tom Lackey, who spent 28 years as a California Highway 
Patrol officer. He opposes legislation there to allow state and local 
health departments to allow supervised clinics.
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