A new Manhattan Institute analysis of anti-overdose policies released Thursday found that so-called “safe-consumption” sites haven’t been proven to reduce overdose deaths and can sometimes result in increased overdose rates in a surrounding area.
The analysis by fellow Charles Fain Lehman examines multiple anti-overdose policy strategies, including Naloxone distribution, drug courts, wastewater monitoring, investment in treatment capacity, drug market interventions and supervised consumption sites (SCS). Lehman found that the evidence supporting SCS is “best characterized as both lacking and somewhat mixed.”
Over 100,000 Americans now die every year of drug overdoses. In a new report, @CharlesFLehman provides insight into how the drug epidemic has spiraled out of control and what can be done to stop it. https://t.co/efBnen8VsU
— Manhattan Institute (@ManhattanInst) August 4, 2022
SCS are locations where addicts can use drugs under the supervision of a volunteer or healthcare professional with sanitary paraphernalia and pure drugs that aren’t laced with dangerous substances. Proponents argue that they reduce overdose rates by facilitating the safest form of drug use possible compared to unsupervised alternatives that addicts would use instead.
“It is particularly hard to isolate the general effect of SCSs on the intensity and extent of drug use,” wrote Lehman in his report. He found that use of SCS may delay addicts in getting treatment and could have adverse effects on surrounding neighbors and businesses by decreasing property values and increasing disorder.
Lehman noted a 2020 review by the government of Alberta, Canada, which found that the seven SCS in the province actually led to an increase in overdose deaths and crime in their surrounding areas. Stakeholders in the communities around the SCS said that they had a negative social and economic impact on the areas.
There are other, more cost-effective ways to reduce overdose deaths, according to the analysis. For instance, a RAND Corporation analysis found that the cost of supervising all injections for someone who uses drugs twice a day for a year could fund methadone for a patient for an entire year.
“What I think it’s important to emphasize is that, relative to both hopes and fears, the best evidence we have is that they are of limited scope and impact,” Lehman told the Daily Caller. “Money spent on operating SCSs could go towards treatment, prevention, or interdiction; local leaders should think seriously about whether an SCS is the best use of limited dollars.”
The Biden administration, however, is throwing significant resources behind SCS. The sites are a fundamental aspect of the “harm reduction” overdose prevention strategy, which the Biden administration has openly embraced. The administration has awarded grants worth millions of dollars to SCS which sometimes even distribute crack pipes to addicts.
Biden’s drug team appears to be content to go all-in on harm reduction, but Lehman says SCS are an experimental approach, not a proven one. (RELATED: Even Democrats Now Agree That The Government Should Not Fund Crack Pipes)
“In other words, policymakers should understand any foray into SCS not so much as a guarantee of success as an experiment,” Lehman concludes. “Experimentation may be warranted, but it should be regarded with the sober caution that experimental policymaking demands.”