As both the heroin and opiate painkiller epidemics have surged tremendously in the last fifteen years, a major effort has been taken to resolve such addiction struggles. As each year goes by our opioid epidemic gets worse, so it is safe to say that we have become desperate in our combined efforts to resolve these struggles. One of the more controversial remedies for a skyrocketing opioid epidemic has been to create legal, monitored, and sanctioned “Injection Sites” where addicts can shoot up heroin or take pain pills in a monitored environment.
Heroin and opiate pain drug overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 1999, inciting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to label the problem an official Epidemic in 2009. This problem now makes up more than half of the total overdose deaths that occur every year. In fact, in 2016 more than sixty-thousand people died because of drugs, a highest-ever for substance abuse deaths that this country has ever experienced.
So many people are now dying from heroin and from opiate pain pills that many American citizens are demanding reform and a restructuring of how we deal with addiction. Doctors are being called out for imprecise prescribing habits. Pharmaceutical companies are being sued for unethical production and distribution of addictive and deadly pharmaceuticals. Drug trafficking crackdowns by law enforcement have once again become a primary method of prevention. States have rapidly erected government-funded treatment centers to focus on helping those already addicted.
Yet still, the problem grows and grows and grows.
In 2014, the mayor of Ithaca New York, Svante Myrick, decided to do something different in his own efforts to address the local heroin and pill addiction problem that surrounded Ithaca. Myrick, the son of an addict, felt that there was nothing to be done for those who truly had decided to be addicts and who were not going to do anything but be addicts regardless of the efforts of their families to convince them otherwise.
Myrick formed a committee of health care professionals, business owners, and law enforcement officials to work towards a solution. The solution they came up with was to create sanctioned, legalized opioid-use sites where opioids could be consumed and injected under monitoring from trained healthcare professionals. Clean needles would be provided, users would be monitored to prevent overdoses, and dirty needles would be disposed of.
The concept with Myrick’s plan was to first accept the fact that, when people decide to be addicts, that is the end of the story. Myrick believed that it would be better to make drug use safer as opposed to trying to stop using drugs altogether. While this approach has been frowned upon and scorned, it has also been replicated in other cities in New York, in California, and in Washington State too.
The concept behind supervised injection sites is controversial. While these locations do have some legitimate benefits, such as preventing the spread of HIV and other blood-borne illnesses, most disagree with these methods. And not without reason. Many feel as though these approaches are an overall admission of defeat regarding drug use, and an acceptance that drug abuse will now and forever more be a part of American culture.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us disagree with this approach. While it may have some benefit in preventing disease and lowering crime rates, much like methadone. It does little for the individual. While many of us might disagree on what addiction is exactly. Most of us have come to recognize that addiction has a spiritual component. This might not manifest as a belief in God. Spirituality is more about realizing that there is some thing greater than ourselves. Continued drug use is simply incompatible with this idea.