Can ‘Safe Houses’ Keep a Check on Drug Overdoses?

Incidents of drug abuse and overdose continue to make headlines in the United States. Hardly a day goes by when someone is not being rushed to the emergency services of a hospital for an accidental or an intentional overdose. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the death rate from all drugs including opioids was 46,471 in 2013 whereas, the number of deaths caused due to firearms including suicides and homicides was 33,636. The number of drug-related deaths surpassed all kinds of gun deaths by nearly 13,000.

Under such circumstances, many California-based drug groups are pushing for “safe houses.” Safe houses are places where drug users can avail sterile supplies and their favorite drug under medical supervision. Supporters believe that under such circumstances, the chances of overdosing can be significantly diminished. Also, in case an emergency arises, relief can be provided quickly. The one-of-its-kind bill legalizing injecting sites has been passed in the Assembly, making California one of the few states to have done so. It has been approved by the Senate Health Committee as well.

Drug groups contend that legalizing safe houses would prove to be a lifesaver for most drug users. Most users resort to drugs as a coping mechanism or to get high. They are unaware of the right quantity and often end up overdosing without realizing the fatal outcomes. Whether on streets or in parties, many-a-times, help can come too late. As the illegal market is growing so is the epidemic of illicit drug use. In such a scenario, safe houses may give better access to treatment, counseling, prevention and timely intervention.

One such safe house exists in Vancouver, Canada. This site claims to have prevented 6,440 overdosing incidents in 13 years. It also claims to have given access to treatment to 4500 people. Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, aims to replicate the Vancouver Safe House in America. Apart from seeking to establish legal safe houses in eight counties from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the bill also aims to limit the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis among drug users due to their risky practices including needle sharing and unprotected liaisons.

Opponents consider rehab as the ‘safest’ choice

Critics on the other side of the fence disapprove any such move citing that it would allow the uninhibited use of drugs as per one’s convenience. One such critic is the Sacramento Pastor, Ronnie Allen. According to him, opening safe houses would increase the chances of developing a deep rooted and chronic addiction. Further elucidating on the dangers of safe houses, Pastor Allen says, “If anyone would offer me at that time a free place to smoke crack, it would have been a wonderful time for me. But I would have never… recovered.” Rehabs for him and his supporters seem to be the best choice to help a person walk the path of sobriety again.

It is advantageous to commit the habitual drug user to a rehab center, where not only he/she can be steadily weaned off from drugs but can also receive continuous counseling to manage emotions, thinking and behavior.

Drug addiction is almost a compulsive behavior. While the first experience with drugs is voluntary, most people start taking drugs with regularity once the alterations in the brain chemistry are deepened turning it into a necessity. Persisting with the habit for long is physically as well as psychologically damaging. It hastens the process of aging, causes physical illnesses and increases the chances of early mortality.

Road to sobriety

Drug overdose is a critical situation requiring immediate resuscitation and professional assistance. It is essential to look for vital signs such as temperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, pupil constriction or dilation if someone suspects an individual to have overdosed. Timely intervention can help save a precious life.