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Combating Heroin Addiction in the United States with Supervised Injection Facilities

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Parker Riggs
June 27, 2017

Heroin addiction is on the rise in the United States. Many individuals in America may not see heroin addiction as a problem that affects them. They may see it as a problem that affects people who are from lower income or even the homeless. With the rise of heroin addiction, this way of thinking could not be any further from the truth. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine shows heroin has affected individuals from all age groups, but it has risen sharply in the 18 to 25 age group. It is not an epidemic that only affects large cities — heroin addiction is on the rise across the United States. What is surprising is that heroin addiction is not just a problem for one gender. In the same article in the New England Journal of Medicine, data shows that heroin use has increased among women more than men and has risen across all races, but has been more prevalent in non-Hispanic whites.

One of the main causes in the rise of heroin addiction is the years of opioid abuse which has gripped the country. Once opioid abuse was recognized as a major health epidemic in our country, the Obama administration provided funding to the Center for Disease Control which started various initiatives in different states to curve opioid abuse. One of the programs was monitoring the prescribing of drugs across different states. In Florida, this monitoring program was a success. Before the program began, Florida had an increase of opioid overdose caused deaths every year. In data released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 after the program was initiated in 2010, the number of opioid prescriptions fell by 20,000 and deaths fell over fifty percent in just two years. While this is a positive result of the new policy, the negative externality is the rise of heroin use, because of loss of ability to get new opioid prescriptions from doctors. In data collected from 2008-2010, it was found over 70 percent of heroin abuses that responded to the survey had been using prescription opioids before turning to heroin.

health-1294825_640Addiction to Heroin is not just a problem for the user or his or her family. It is an epidemic that causes issues for all aspects of society. It causes strain on the health care industry. Emergency room visits for abuse of opioid prescriptions skyrocketed with a 153 percent increase from 2004-2011. These emergency room visits cost the public money if opioid abusers have no job or access to funds to pay for medical service. Heroin abuse can also lead to long-term medical costs. Major health problems like AIDs, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B, are very prevalent among heroin users if they don’t have access to clean needles and share them with other users how already have one of mentioned infections. An article in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal shows these health issues alone can cause over two billion in costs. In that same article, heroin addiction is also a major problem for the workforce: in a 1996 survey, only 32 percent of heroin users were employed.

The best policy to curve heroin addiction in the United States is to look at the policies in place in other developed countries such as Canada and Germany. One of the ways these countries handle heroin abuse is by creating Supervised Injection Facilities (SIF). These are facilities offer heroin users a safe and sterile place to use heroin. It provides them with clean needles, which helps curve the spreading of HIV and other infections. These facilities offer staff that can help users prevent overdoses. SIF centers have been shown to reduce the number of overdose deaths and are very helpful in getting users to check into drug rehabilitation programs.

Supervised Injection Facilities will not only help heroin users get clean — they will help the entire community. With users having a safe, sterile place to use, they are not out on the streets spreading infections such as HIV and they are not using on the streets in front of children and families. It gives users the help they need to fight their addiction while still being productive members of society. The outcomes of this policy would be first to provide a safe facility for heroin users. The facilities should also be managed in conjunction with drug rehabilitation centers so users can easily check into rehab when they choose to do so. This policy would call for tax breaks if private hospitals funded these facilities and offered programs to educate the public on the benefits of having a Supervised Injection Facility in their city. Once the public can understand that punishment is not the only way to solve the drug problem we may be able to move forward and solve this national crisis.

Author: Second-Year MPA Student, Future Public Servant Student at Augusta University:[email protected]

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