Opioid Users Find Safety Where Their Use Is Monitored And They Are Free From Judgement

There is an opioid epidemic that has taken over North America with numbers of overdoses and deaths from overdose at record levels. New ways to combat the epidemic are coming into play and one organization seeks to assist in curbing the number of drug abusers by using less conventional methods. SPOT, which opened in Boston earlier this year, gives drug users a safe space to go when they’re high where they are monitored by a nurse who looks for signs of overdose. The facility also assists in connecting users with rehab programs.

In under six months, 275 different individuals have visited SPOT more than 1,500 times. No one who visited the facility overdosed and many returned repeatedly on their own.

One individual who struggled for years with drug abuse is Tommy Blais. At 16 he was involved in a motorcycle accident which left him in pain with a broken bone and made him dependent on prescription opioids. The doctor tried to cut the number of pain pills that Blais was taking, yet he then found the drugs on the street, which eventually turned to sniffing and injecting heroin. Blais is now in recovery, but has experienced and witnessed the dangers of drugs. STAT shares Blais’ words.

“I’ve found people dead, and I’ve had people die in front of me.”

Prior to quitting, Blais had to be revived on a number of occasions with a shot of naloxone that helped him to breath again. He shares that he has also resuscitated approximately 30 people with shots following overdose. The young man states that he has also been responsible for bringing people to SPOT for monitoring when they have seemed over-sedated.

“The drug war has been lost,” he said. “We need new ways to help addicts.”

A nurse and the director of SPOT, Kate Orlin, spoke with the publication about the facility’s goal and services offered to drug users who do not have proper health care coverage.

“People feel that they are valued, no matter where they are from or what they are doing. We can capture people without access to health care, and give them stability and care consistently.”

It was Boston Health Care for the Homeless that opened SPOT following the death rate in Boston rising more than 60 percent from opioid overdoses between 2012 and 2014. All drug users who visit the facility are not ready to quit, but Dr. Jessie Gaeta, the program’s chief medical officer, states that “we need to keep people alive so they can consider recovery.” The staff relay that they have used naxalone approximately 30 times to revive people and save their lives.

The program relies on a public health strategy that is known as “harm reduction” and the name SPOT is the short form of the organization’s title- a supportive place for observation and treatment. Harm reduction facilities also exist in Canada, Europe and Australia in the form of needle exchange programs and supervised drug injection facilities.

In Vancouver, InSite is an injection facility and is the first of its kind that opened in 2003. The facility has treated 768 overdoses last year alone. Research has shown that these supervised user facilities tend to cut disease transmission and by time sway individuals to rehabilitation. They are seen to be controversial, however, because critics have concerns that they sanction drug use. Injection sites are illegal in the United States, therefore at SPOT users who visit are not to inject on site.

A spokesperson for Health Canada, Andre Gagnon, spoke with the publication about the evidence that demonstrates such facilities have the potential to save people’s live.

“International and Canadian evidence shows that, when properly established and managed, supervised consumption sites have the potential to save lives and improve health without increasing drug use and crime in the surrounding area.”

[Feature Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]