(Reuters Health) – Addicts regularly use drugs on the streets of San Francisco, and some people there say giving addicts a safe, clean place to shoot up – and clean needles – could help curb overdose deaths and diseases.
But critics object to enabling addicts to shoot illegal drugs in a supervised injection facility in San Francisco – or anywhere in the U.S.
A new cost-benefit analysis in the Journal of Drug Issues makes the financial case for a supervised injection site. A 13-booth facility in San Francisco could save $3.5 million a year, mostly in reduced medical costs, the report calculates.
The estimate assumes San Francisco would open a center exactly like Insite – North America’s first legal supervised drug-injection site built in Vancouver, Canada in 2003. Insite serves an estimated 1,700 people a month.
An injection facility in San Francisco would save the life of one drug user who would otherwise die of an overdose every four years and would assist in getting 110 drug addicts medication-assisted treatment each year, the new study suggests.
In addition, it would prevent an average of 19 cases of hepatitis C and three cases of HIV infection a year and would reduce hospital stays for skin and soft-tissue infections related to needle use by 415 days a year.
“To me, it’s really a win-win for everyone,” senior author Alex Kral said in a phone interview. “It’s a win for the community to get people off the streets, and it’s a win for the people injecting drugs to be sure they can be as safe as possible.”
An epidemiologist, Kral directs the behavioral and urban health program at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute in San Francisco.
Propelled by prescription painkiller and heroin abuse, U.S. deaths from drug overdoses hit a record 47,055 in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study authors estimate the U.S. spends more than $6 billion a year covering the medical expenses of people who inject drugs.
“This is one way to reduce what is one of the biggest sources of mortality in the country,” Kral said.
“We’ve tried a lot of things in the last 50 years, and none of them have succeeded,” he said. “So why not try an innovative, evidence-based solution that’s working in upwards of a dozen countries?”
Since the first supervised injection facility opened in the Swiss city of Berne in 1986, nearly 100 similar facilities have opened in 66 cities across 11 countries. U.S. cities from Seattle to New York have considered installing drug-injection sites, but none have been able to clear the hurdles.