Supervised injection facilities prevent death and do not encourage drug use. Sharing this information can keep our patients safer.
Opioid overdose deaths have skyrocketed over the past decade. Harm reduction is an essential component of the continuum of care for patients who use drugs. Every touchpoint with someone using drugs can be a lifesaver. One emerging, community-based harm reduction strategy is overdose prevention centers (OPCs), sometimes called supervised consumption sites or supervised injection facilities.
OPCs are a public health and harm reduction intervention to provide hygienic and safe environments for people to use pre-obtained drugs under clinical or peer supervision. The first two OPCs in the United States opened in New York City in November 2021, but OPCs are well established internationally, with the first such program opening in Switzerland in 1986. Over 100 OPCs now operate successfully across the globe.
Here are four things you need to know:
1. Are overdose prevention centers effective at preventing overdose?
Very much so! Across over 100 sites and 35 years, not one person has died of an overdose while in an OPC. In NYC, during the first six months of operation, clinical and peer staff at the two OPCs already prevented over 300 overdoses. The programs also reduce reliance on emergency medical service responses to nonfatal overdoses, allowing those resources to be deployed elsewhere while reducing burden and health care costs.
2. Don’t overdose prevention centers encourage drug use?
Far from it! Overdose prevention centers provide an environment for patients with substance use disorders (SUDs) to use drugs with clinical and peer protection from overdose. By building trust with and keeping individuals safe, OPCs open the door for participants to access a range of other harm reduction, healthcare, and social services. Individuals who interact with OPCs are more likely to more safely manage their drug use and connect with evidence-based SUD treatment.
3. Will overdose prevention centers make communities less safe?
To the contrary! Overdose prevention centers bring drugs and drug use off the street and into safe and hygienic spaces. Research shows that OPCs are associated with reduced public drug use and accompanying litter (like syringes) and drug-related crime in the neighborhoods in which they operate. In so doing, OPCs make their surrounding communities safer.
4. Should overdose prevention centers be expanded to other regions?
Absolutely! OPCs are an effective, patient-centered and evidence-based intervention that saves lives, and significantly improves health and safety. Along with other evidence-based practices, OPCs can play a major role in reducing the toll of overdose across communities struggling with this ongoing crisis.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.