The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program is in the process of finalizing a “safe space” for heroin users within their center. A room with a nurse present would create a safer environment for people who are currently high and need a place where medical attention is readily available should they need it. It is important to understand what this “safe space” truly is: “It’s not a place where people would be injecting…[It would be] a place where people would come if they’re high and they need a safe place to be that’s not a street corner or not a bathroom by themselves, where they’re at high risk of dying if they do overdose,” says Dr. Jessie Galea in an article from wbur’s Common Health.
This initiative comes at a time of great concern over the opioid epidemic that is spreading across the United States. In Massachusetts, the number of confirmed cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths in 2014 was a 57% increase over the number of cases recorded in 2012, as reported by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. This form of harm reduction policy may come as a shock to some people- it is strange thing to conceive the provision of a space where heroin users who are currently high will be allowed to stay without facing legal penalty. While this is an unconventional method to combat drug overdoses, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Something needs to be done. Our current policies in place create an environment that leads addicts to endanger themselves even further. In order to fully address the opioid epidemic, policy implementation is going to have to target all of the factors contributing to the epidemic, rather than solely tightening restrictions on opioid prescriptions (though that should not be slighted). By creating a safe space where people who are currently experiencing a high can come, this could lead to many lives saved who would’ve otherwise overdosed because medical treatment could not be sought in time. In addition, we may see a rise in users who admit themselves into treatment and detox centers. It is important to think creatively when trying to combat an epidemic of the magnitude that we see with the opioid epidemic in the U.S., and to be open to unconventional ideas.
By Jackie Sheridan