Drug use and cessation

On the surface it may seem counter intuitive that SCS will reduce drug use, but SCS do not encourage or increase drug use in their communities. Research has not found that the existence of SCS leads people to transition into injection drug use. People who use SCS are usually people who have injected drugs before.

SCS also lead PWUD into drug treatment and drug cessation. SCS serve as a low-threshold location for people to come and use drugs and receive other services, including referrals to drug treatment. Drug treatment is not mandated, nor is it even the ultimate endpoint. Keeping PWUD alive, healthy, and safe comes first.

That said, this compassionate approach and non-judgmental provision of services has a healthy impact on drug use. Insite, a SIF in Vancouver, has a drug treatment program on the floors above it. One study showed that 57% of PWID using Insite entered drug treatment, with nearly 1 in 4 (23%) stopping injection drug use entirely.

Eliminating drug overdose

With millions of injections and other forms of taking drugs, no one has ever died of a drug overdose in an SCS. SCS have trained peers, social workers, and medical staff who can respond to an overdose immediately. SCS also provide safer injection education. Additionally, SCS provide a quiet and calm space for PWUD to take their time, carefully prepare their drug and not rush, thus controlling and often moderating their drug dose.

In addition, cities such as Vancouver and Sydney saw significant reductions in overdoses, emergency calls, and hospital admissions in local communities following the opening of SCS. In Western Europe, other cities report the same.

Preventing HIV and hepatitis C

In an SCS, people never have to share anything. Studies have shown that participants are also less likely to share injection equipment in the community. The impact on reducing new infections is dramatic: Insite is estimated to have prevented over 1,100 new HIV infections over 10 years of operation. Other studies have modeled reductions in HCV infections as well.

Other injection-related medical consequences—abscesses, endocarditis, and other types of infections and wounds—are also reduced.

With all of these reductions in new HIV and HCV infections, as well as other medical problems, come reductions in cost and use of medical and emergency services.

Social issues

SCS provide indoor spaces, thus taking people off the streets, alleys, public parks, and public bathrooms to inject or smoke. Research has shown that public injecting decreases with an SCS, as does the number of discarded syringes and other injection paraphernalia. In addition, SCS do not lead to an increase in crime, including drug dealing and property crimes.

SOURCES: Drug Policy Alliance; “Safer Drug Consumption Spaces: A Strategy for Baltimore City,” The Abell Foundation; “Alternatives to Public Injecting,” Harm Reduction Coalition