Opioid deaths are on the rise in Broome County, as they are both across the rest of New York and the United States. Safe injection sites could save lives and reduce opioid usage rate.

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Per a previous article on WNBF, Broome County had an opioid overdose rate of 35.8 per 100,000 residents in 2020, more than double the state average of 15.1 per 100,000 residents in 2019. And with the increased presence of fentanyl nation-wide, that number could certainly continue to rise.

Currently, there are only two overdose prevention centers in New York. And according to a report by Joe Mahoney for The Meadville Tribune, those two sites successfully intervened in approximately 600 overdoses in just their first year of operation.

The knee-jerk reaction of many will be to say we shouldn't be allowing people to use illicit drugs at all. But that is a willfully naïve view on the situation. The fact is that people use opioids and it's dangerous both for the person using the drugs and the people they may come in contact with. Admitting that opioid use and addiction exists, and finding the best ways to prevent harm and save lives might be more difficult to stomach, but it's the reality of the situation. Harm reduction sites are the product of recognizing reality, and trying to do something meaningful about it.

According to a study done by Jorge Finke, MD and Jie Chan, MD for the American Family Physician, a supervised injection site in Vancouver, Canada reduced overdose deaths in its area by 26% compared to the rest of the city. One in Barcelona, Spain reduced overdose deaths by 50% from 1991 to 2008. The study also estimated that a supervised injection site in New York City could save $800,000 to $1.6 million in annual health care costs associated with opioid overdoses.

In early September, WNBF's Kathy Whyte reported that the Village of Johnson City had taken action to limit the potential locations of a safe injection site in the community, anticipating New York State legalizing them. According to the report, residents of Johnson City have expressed concerns about recklessly discarded needles and running into people using opioids in public areas. While Mayor Martin Meaney made it clear the Village of Johnson City doesn't condone legal safe injection sites, there are still places that one of the sites could be located.

The American Family Physician study addressed those concerns as well. One study in Vancouver reported a persistent decrease in crime after the opening of a safe injection site, and a study done on an unsanctioned supervised injection site in the United States found that 90% of the people utilizing the site would have otherwise injected in public places like restrooms, parks and streets.

Additionally, safe injection sites are able to provide clean materials, safety tips on injecting and can direct opioid users to rehabilitative services.

It's difficult to accept the reality that people are going to use illicit drugs. It's even more difficult to accept that there should be sites dedicated to helping people use those drugs safely. But when you look at the data from studies done on safe injection sites, it's hard to argue that the sites don't save lives, improve chances of successful rehabilitation, and make communities safer.

It's something to consider with Broome County's higher than average opioid overdose rate.

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