Pubdate: Tue, 23 Jan 2018
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2018 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.


Safe injection sites where addicts can shoot up in a supervised
setting could be a hard concept for many to grasp as anything but an
invitation for users to inject poison into themselves with the city's

To believe that, though, would be a mistake. Philadelphia announced
Tuesday it would support the idea of sites that would not only provide
medical supervision to addicts but give them access to treatment and
other services. Such a move won't solve the deadly opioid crisis, but
is intended to be damage control ... literally. Such sites may
control the fatal damage that drugs are inflicting, in a crisis that
has laid waste to thousands of lives and families.

Supervised sites ... what the city is calling Comprehensive User
Engagement Sites (CUES) -- are just part of the city's response. They
can reduce the number of people shooting up in public spaces and
leaving needles behind. The sites can save lives. On that basis, they
are worth adding to the city's arsenal of weapons against the killer

It's fitting that Philadelphia will be the first U.S. city to allow
such sites, since the 1,200 who died last year of a drug overdoses is
the largest number per capita than any American city. But it's a
controversial response, and the city on Tuesday made a point of
insisting that nonprofits and professionals will be operating them,
and that no city money will be going directly to the sites.

There's a case to be made for the city to reconsider that direct
support. After all, the cost the city bears now is already staggering,
not only in human lives, but in city services. Police, firefighters
and others are armed with the life-saving antidote, naloxone, and
they're using it to save hundreds of lives. When there aren't enough
ambulances to take dying addicts to the nearest hospital emergency
room, the city dispatches Fire Department vehicles.

By providing treatment and other services, the supervised sites can
lessen the risk that the next injection leads to another funeral, and
another shattered family.

But while families bear the brunt of this crisis, the city has a
responsibility for large scale responses to public health crises.

The city has been acting on many fronts to combat this scourge. It's
talking to doctors to get them to stop casually prescribing opioids
for minor pain and to insurance companies to get them to stop
reimbursing for excessive painkiller prescriptions. It has cleared
addicts from a drug encampment on the Conrail tracks in Kensington, an
abandoned church and the Kensington Library lawn. Its suing five drug
manufacturers to get them to stop aggressively marketing painkillers
which lead users to street drugs. It's opened more treatment slots.

There is a hopeful story from the North. After 200 people died of drug
overdoses, Vancouver set up a safe injection site. There have been no
deaths at the site and crime in the surrounding area has decreased.
This summer Toronto followed and opened three sites. In just six
months, 139 people have been saved.

In May, a mayoral task force recommended serious consideration of
safe-injection sites. They won't end the opioid crisis. But they could
lessen the grief for families who are losing a loved one to addiction.
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