Safe Injection Sites: Should Northeast Ohio create supervised places for heroin users to shoot up?

Heroin crisis: can safe injection sites help

CLEVELAND - It is a controversial plan that goes against everything we're taught when it comes to helping heroin addicts get clean.  The plan to help them would allow them to get high instead. It’s been done in Canada and in Europe.  One day it could happen here too.

Jodi Iverson was once a promising figure skater. Today her routine consists of scoring heroin. “It can get nasty sometimes,” Jodi said. But instead of shooting up in alleys, bathrooms, or other hidden places, Jodi is taking her heroin to North America’s only legal heroin injection center, in Vancouver. Here she’s given clean needles and a spoon to shoot up under medical supervision.

“Safe injection works. Two million injections at that site. Zero overdose deaths,” according to Svante Myrick.  He is not affiliated with Vancouver’s injection site and lives several thousand miles away. But this year Myrick, who is the Mayor of Ithaca New York, unveiled the Ithaca Plan.  The controversial proposal to fight drugs starts with so-called heroin-safe zones.

Myrick believes lives would be saved if staff could intervene at the moment of an overdose. Then counsel on treatment.  “We just have to admit to ourselves that what we’ve been doing is a complete failure,” Myrick maintains.

It comes as little surprise that his stance is met with great opposition. Many critics argue it sends the wrong message, not to mention it is illegal.

“It’s a big step for a community and many people really have a problem with it,” said Dr. Ted Parran, an addiction specialist with St. Vincent Charity Hospital.

But we may be running out of options.

“This is clearly a very, very, very serious problem and it’s continuously getting worse,” according to local counselor Aaron Marks, who once was an addict.

“It gives you access to the population. You can recommend treatment,” Marks added.

Mike Matoney runs a treatment center for teens. There was a time the suggestion of injection sites would have rankled him. Those days are long gone.

“You have to consider injection sites. Because what we are doing is we are counting bodies now. And we’re not saying how do we prevent the counting of bodies. As a treatment professional we are chasing things that we cannot catch up to,” Matoney said.

According to the latest figures from the CDC, heroin killed more than 10-thousand people in 2014.
That year, 350 of those deaths were in Cuyahoga County.  And this year will likely shatter that.

Tonight, lawmakers in New York, Maryland and the city of Seattle are taking the proposal seriously.
And though there are no known plans for Ohio -- Ithaca's mayor reminds us, this is known: “125 people are going to die today from opiate overdoses. 125 people. And 125 people will die tomorrow.”


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