A new bill in Colorado, HB 1202, would allow communities to set up “safe injection sites” in hopes of curbing the state’s overdose crisis. Its sponsors argue that people can’t kick their habit if they are dead.
Colorado, for once, isn’t charting the course to the drugging of people — it’s simply following the misguided lead of the federal government.
In 2019, the Department of Justice sued Safehouse, a Philadelphia nonprofit group, to prevent its launch of a “safe injection site,” more accurately described as a supervised drug consumption site. The DOJ successfully argued such sites were illegal under federal law.
Under the Biden administration, however, the DOJ entered settlement talks with Safehouse and recently asked the court for “ a couple more weeks to reach amicable resolution ,” ignoring North America’s recent and problematic history with such sites.
San Francisco launched the nation’s first supervised drug consumption site in 2021. New York City followed with two more sites.
San Francisco’s site, the Linkage Center, was sold to the community as a taxpayer-funded way to link illegal drug abusers to treatment services. Dealers quickly realized the benefits of relocating to just outside the lucrative marketplace. Chaos and crime ensued, which left locals questioning city officials as to whether the promise of the site was being realized. The results were slow-walked but unsurprising: 0.003% of site customers accessed drug treatment services. Within one year of operation, the failed experiment was shut down.
New York City’s two taxpayer-funded drug sites generated a similar outcry from locals. Not only did city officials choose to plop these sites into Harlem, a community already struggling with significant social ills, but the Harlem-based sites quickly became open-air drug markets in which dealers flourish. Harlem’s children now navigate sidewalks riddled with used syringes. Officials happily address neighbors’ concerns with overdose reversal stats, but data on the number of customers accessing treatment services are “unavailable.”
These experiments, completely ignored by Biden’s DOJ, were modeled after North America’s first supervised drug consumption site opened in 2003 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver officials excitedly share that 6,000 overdoses have been reversed since the site launched. But they are conspicuously reluctant to admit that fewer than 2% of site visitors access drug treatment of any kind, that Vancouver’s illicit drug toxicity deaths have risen by 840% since the site opened, and that heroin possession and trafficking incidents have increased by nearly 170% from 2004 to 2018.
The lesson from Vancouver is that overdose reversal is misleading as a sole metric of success. It distinctly omits the harm experienced by a site’s surrounding community while ostensibly condoning prolonged harm to the addict.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies addiction as a medical condition — a brain disease that needs treatment, not enabling. “Revived” drug abusers often continue to abuse illegal substances, making them subject to toxic brain injury, according to the Brain Injury Association. Repeat abuse destroys frontal lobe tissue, the source of motor function and judgment, and can lead to repeat overdose that is likely to result in further brain injury, including hypoxia or brain anoxia, in which the body forgets how to breathe.
With our nation’s drug crisis at an all-time high, the nation can ill-afford public policy ventures that reject human transformation and second chances. People struggling with addiction, as well as the families and communities crushed under its weight, deserve a “free” way, not a highway to hell. Texas will be leading the nation in constructing such freeways through SB 1388 and HB 4667 — legislation to ban supervised drug consumption sites.