Denver is considering instituting a so-called Safe Injection Site (SIS), where IV drug users can shoot up with clean needles, and staff is onsite to administer naloxone (the life-saving anti-OD drug) if needed.
While addiction epidemics may require innovative solutions, innovation does not necessarily spell effective.
I lived for a long time in Zurich, Switzerland, one of the leading examples — both good and bad — of innovation in treating drug addiction. For years, Zurich was home to “needle park,” a horrifying experiment in localized, free drug use. Do an image search for “Platzspitz”; be prepared to be deeply disturbed.
The experiment was such a disaster (higher usage, crime rates, deaths) that it required radical solutions.
So Zurich now offers HAT, “heroin assisted treatment.” I think it’s more responsible. First, heroin is administered in a true medical facility. The addict, who has been assessed as being beyond regular treatment, requires a script. Second, HAT is administered together with social services, so there is comprehensive care for patients, rather than just simply letting them come shoot up and then be on their way. Third, the heroin is medical grade, unlike SIS which allows users to bring in any drug off the street. Finally, the goal of HAT is treatment, not “safe” facilitation.
My councilwoman explained to me that the federal government would not permit administration of a Schedule 1 drug. She is probably correct, but the federal government also has an issue with SIS and Denver City Council didn’t let that stop it.
I’m not saying HAT is the answer for Denver. But its existence — and the lack of awareness of it by Denver and Colorado legislators — says to me that lawmakers are rushing into “innovative” solutions without thorough research.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at email@example.com
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