The Only Humane and Realistic Solution to the Opioid Crisis

Polis: Center for Politics
4 min readApr 23, 2024

Julia Grimes (PPS ‘25)

Julia Grimes (PPS ‘25)

For my 10th grade English class research paper, I wrote about the history of the opioid crisis and how I believed it would best be addressed. After weeks of research, drafting, and conferencing, I concluded that the opioid crisis was a devastating issue that could be effectively solved through finding less addictive means of treating chronic pain and more aggressive drug education programs in public schools that would warn against the dangers of addiction. I never considered the option of supervised injection sites.

Five years later as a college student, I recognize the naivety in the conclusion of my high school paper. Five years later, the opioid crisis has not only continued to devastate the nation but has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And five years later, our country has failed to employ effective solutions.

The number of opioid deaths increased by 37% from 2020 to 2021 and opioid overdoses are the leading cause of injury related deaths in the United States. Despite its scope, the government continues to ignore and criminalize drug addicts. The opioid crisis and drug use is no longer something that we can ignore as a country. We can no longer sit by and watch while so much of the country is affected by addiction.

The fact of the matter is that we remain idle because the population affected are negatively construed drug users. Our government is sending a clear message that their lives don’t matter as much. This shouldn’t prevent us from taking effective action. It is clear that traditional interventions have failed to save lives. In order to do so and stop the ostracization of addicts in our country, supervised injection sites must be made commonplace throughout the United States.

Supervised injection sites are facilities where drug users can consume and be provided with sterile supplies and overseen by healthcare personnel that provide lifesaving support in case of an overdose. Sites also offer counseling on safe consumption techniques, withdrawal management services and referrals to addiction or social services, such as housing.

In Canada, Australia, and Europe, supervised injection sites have been operating for years. Studies of the area surrounding a site in Canada showed a 26% net reduction in overdose deaths, a significant reduction in publicly discarded syringes, and no increased criminal activity or drug use. These sites have potential to reduce healthcare costs by preventing illnesses spread through unsafe drug use such as HIV and hepatitis C, and reducing the number of ambulance calls and emergency room visits. A cost benefit analysis even predicted that a site in Baltimore would generate $7.8 million in savings annually.

Opponents of supervised injection sites in the United States worry about the message that supervised injection sites could potentially be sending. In 2017 the U.S. Attorney’s Office released a statement that government sanctioned sites would “encourage and normalize heroin use.” This statement isn’t based in fact, and ignores how pervasive drug use already is. A safe place that provides care for drug users will send the message that the government cares about its citizens, no matter what they are struggling with. A survey at an unsanctioned supervised injection site in the United States reported that 90% of users would otherwise be injecting drugs in a public restroom, street, park, or parking lot–meaning that safe injection sites would move drug use to a private and more controlled setting. The same authors of that statement instead suggested more police intervention–an extremely disastrous solution. Drug users need to be met with the compassion and empathy of care providers that are looking to help them, not punished by insensitive police officers.

Current federal law doesn’t allow for the funding of safe consumption sites–forcing sites to rely on donations or grants. In order for safe consumption sites to continue to save lives and for new ones to open, federal funds must be allocated.

Addiction is an extremely complicated and deeply devastating disease that needs to be treated as such. Supervised injection sites take drug use out of the dark and restores a sense of humanity and dignity for drug users. While they may be a jarring concept for some, the reality of the situation is that they are the only realistic and humane option that we have.

Julia Grimes is from Westport, CT and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.