Spreading bloodborne pathogens like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV can all lead to chronic illness and eventually cause death. However, many people who abuse injection drugs like heroin may contract these diseases due to needle reuse and unclean conditions.
To help people who inject drugs, supervised consumption services are being studied and implemented all over the country. These services include needle exchanges, used needle disposals, and safe injection sites.
In 2010, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) was selected as a “state partner” in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Safe Injection Practices Coalition (SIPC).
Initiatives in this program include educating health service providers across the state and creating a New Jersey Advisory Board that guides the initiative across the northeastern state.
Since its inception, the injection safety team has provided information, materials, and presentations to over 10,000 health professionals and students in 130 locations across New Jersey.
One of the more important programs created by the team is the Safe Injection Ambassador Program. The program began in 2011, and it was first implemented in 2012, training licensed health care professionals like nurses and infection preventionists in injection practices and substance abuse information. By 2016, the program had trained over 75 ambassadors.
Syringe reuse, drug diversion and tampering, and misuse of medication vials have resulted in over 150,000 people who sought testing for bloodborne pathogens and caused dozens of outbreaks. While some of these are mistakes in a medical setting, most of them (including in New Jersey) involve people who use injection drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and other substances.
New Jersey’s lawmakers are considering a proposal in 2019 that would allow DOH to open four safe injection sites. These sites would allow people who use injection drugs to consume substances in a clean, safe setting without fear of being arrested for drug abuse or paraphernalia.
While there is extensive criticism among lawmakers and law enforcement officers for this type of program, safe injection sites have been found to reduce chronic illness from bloodborne pathogens like HIV and hepatitis.
These sites in New Jersey are also geared toward reducing the number of drug overdoses and deaths by providing medical oversight and monitoring through case managers and administrators. Naloxone would be on hand for everyone working at the site, and it could be quickly administered while emergency medical services are on their way.
Safe injection sites also provide the opportunity for people who use injection drugs to learn more about addiction treatment services, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT), detox, and rehabilitation options.
There are about 120 similar centers around the world. Countries that have implemented these programs report reductions in overdose deaths, declines in communicable diseases associated with substance abuse, and no reported loss of life at the facilities.
Philadelphia and New York have pursued safe injection sites, and the concept has entered the state of New Jersey. While these ideas have been considered for a long time around the United States, no state or city has opened a safe injection site yet, largely due to federal law.
There is also not enough information in the U.S. or from global safe injection sites to determine if these facilities actually reduce addiction rates. While information on treatment can be available at safe injection sites or through other supervised consumption services, there is very little information suggesting people who use injection drugs access these services after using the injection site.
Programs in Atlantic City, Camden, Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson that have provided clean syringes, if not safe injection sites, have reported a good amount of success since 2006.
Even if New Jersey does not open safe injection sites, other aspects of Good Samaritan programs have offered both short-term and long-term medical help for people who struggle with substance abuse, especially opioid drugs.
Reducing overdose rates means that more people who struggle with addiction may seek treatment, especially when facilities provide information on recovery.