Opioid Crisis Exit Strategies Must Include Overdose Prevention Centers
August 31st is National Overdose Awareness Day. Last year, more than 68,000 Americans died after experiencing a drug overdose.
Law Enforcement Action Partnership speakers recently signed a legal brief — alongside more than sixty other police chiefs, sheriffs, and district attorneys — to show our support for overdose prevention centers (OPCs). These sites are reducing overdose deaths, bringing people into recovery, and saving public resources in nearly 100 facilities around the world. Despite their proven success, there isn’t a single one in the US.
For those who are still using drugs despite diversionary interventions like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) and the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), OPCs (also called “supervised use sites”) would serve a key role in our direct service infrastructure. When people are afraid of being assaulted, robbed, or arrested while using drugs, they hide. A safe option stops the tragic cycle of people hiding and dying alone by giving them access to a medical facility, where they can use drugs under the supervision of health professionals. Trained staff educate participants about safer consumption practices; provide regular health screenings; and make connections to treatment resources, job openings, and housing options.
OPCs reduce healthcare and emergency services costs. When an overdose is reported, emergency services are called and public resources are used. EMS and police often aren’t able to arrive at the scene of an overdose before tragedy. This method of responding to overdoses is inefficient and demoralizing, but OPCs eliminate the emergency service intermediary. Anyone who overdoses in an OPC receives immediate medical attention. Not a single person has died of an overdose while in their care.
The law enforcement professionals at LEAP understand the harsh realities of drug addiction and its impact on public safety. We know from other successful OPCs that the facilities do not become crime magnets. Buying or selling drugs is just as illegal inside their walls as it is everywhere else. OPCs take drug-using activity off the sidewalk and out of alleyways, reducing youth exposure to drug use and bystanders’ exposure to needle-stick injuries.
At the most basic level, saving lives and helping folks connect with treatment options are the priorities. We’ve already tried throwing everyone in jail: it’s harmful, costly, and doesn’t help a majority of people get their addiction under control. We should provide people who use drugs with resources to get on the right path rather than leaving them vulnerable to disease, overdose, and death.
We’re not suggesting a drastic change to anyone’s community. All OPCs do is connect people who use drugs with medical supervision before they overdose instead of calling 911 after it’s too late.
The Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit of police, judges, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials who promote evidence-based solutions to our most pressing public safety problems. Help us end the overdose crisis today.