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Overdose Deaths Down at Supervised Drug Consumption Sites

TUESDAY, July 14, 2020 -- At unsanctioned safe drug consumption sites, where participants are allowed to inject illicit drugs under the supervision of trained personnel, overdoses are less likely to result in death, according to a letter to the editor published online July 8 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Alex H. Kral, Ph.D., from RTI International in Berkley, California, and colleagues recorded the number of injections and overdoses over five years at an unsanctioned safe consumption site. Access to the site was by invitation only, and individuals had to be at least 18 years of age and have a history of illicit drug use. Only drugs that were preobtained by the individuals were used at the site. After answering a series of demographic and behavioral questions, participants were provided with sterile syringes and injection equipment and could request injection assistance from staff members. All staff members were trained to provide counseling, drug overdose intervention, and contact emergency services, as needed.

Over five years, 10,514 injections were recorded. The researchers found that all 33 opioid-involved overdoses during the five years were reversed by naloxone administered by trained staff. No person who overdosed was transferred to an outside medical facility, and no overdose incident required contacting 911 for assistance. The number of overdoses increased during the years of operation, from zero in 2014 to 13 in 2018 and 15 in 2019, due partially to the increased number of injections during the same period.

"We know that nearly 70,000 people die each year from drug overdoses in the United States," Kral said in a statement. "Implementing safe consumption sites could lead to a reduction in deaths, and studies from other countries with sanctioned injection sites have shown reductions in the risk of infectious disease, drug use, and increased access to health and social services."

Two authors disclosed financial ties to Arnold Ventures, which supported the research.

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Posted: July 2020

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