I am not ashamed of how my son died. In fact, I am very proud of the uphill battle he fought to stay alive. What I am ashamed of is how people in our country pick and choose who has value. Every life has value and deserves the best chance of survival, and overdose prevention centers can help to achieve this for those who use drugs.
107,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2021. To some, that is just a number, but to a mother whose son died from a preventable overdose, that number represents 107,000 loved ones whose lives could and should have been saved. Overdose prevention centers are a way to bring the community, lawmakers and other elected officials together to save lives.
Overdose prevention centers are medically supervised facilities designed to provide a hygienic environment in which people are able to use drugs, prevent drug overdose deaths and reduce the spread of infectious disease. They also provide a gateway to medical services and treatment options.
The United States criminalizes drug use and incarcerates people at a much higher rate than other peer countries. Criminalization contributes to the number of overdose deaths, the stigma of people who use drugs and the stigma of evidence-based treatment for substance use, which prevents people from seeking treatment. Many in this country who do seek treatment cannot find or afford evidence-based treatment, most importantly medication.
Other countries who have much lower overdose death rates than the U.S. have implemented policies that focus on helping, rather than punishing people struggling with addiction. This includes implementing overdose prevention centers and making sure people have easy access to medication like methadone or suboxone.
Critics will tell you overdose prevention centers encourage drug use and crime will increase in the surrounding areas, but there is no evidence of this. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
According to the American Medical Association, “Studies from other countries have shown that supervised injection facilities (overdose prevention centers) reduce the number of overdose deaths, reduce transmission of rates of infectious disease, and increase the number of individuals initiating treatment for substance use disorders without increasing drug trafficking or crime in the areas where the facilities are located.”
Additionally, the Drug Policy Alliance states 100 evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies have shown positive impacts of overdose prevention centers. These include reducing the risk of overdose, death and the spread of infectious diseases, increasing public safety and decreasing public drug injection. Additionally, there have been no reported deaths at overdose prevention centers.
For those who still think overdose prevention centers cause harm to individuals and to communities: your opinion is based on stigma. This stigma causes deaths. There is no evidence that shows this harm. The evidence shows overdose prevention centers save lives. Isn’t that the outcome that our society should be working toward? It is past time to implement this and other evidence-based policies and services that will not only save lives but encourage individuals to seek treatment. People who use drugs deserve access to all services that could have a positive effect on their lives.
So yes, this mom overwhelmingly supports the implementation of overdose prevention centers so no other family has to live with the utter devastation of losing their loved one to a preventable death. We have tried incarceration and punishment with dismal results.
We can’t keep using the deadly policies that have left us with 107,000 preventable deaths each year. There is another more humane, compassionate way and that includes the implementation of overdose prevention centers. Contact your legislators and tell them to vote yes on HB23-1202 so we can work toward a healthier, safer future.
Laura Cash is on the Board of Directors of Broken No More/GRASP and Harm Reduction Ohio and lives in Evergreen, Colorado.