Nav: Home

Safe space for illegal drug consumption in Baltimore would save $6 million a year

May 25, 2017

A new cost-benefit analysis conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and others suggests that $6 million in costs related to the opioid epidemic could be saved each year if a single "safe consumption" space for illicit drug users were opened in Baltimore.

It would also reduce overdose deaths, HIV and hepatitis C infections, overdose-related ambulance calls and hospitalizations - and bring scores of people into treatment, they found.

Carefully monitored "safe consumption" spaces, which are not legal in the United States but have been used in dozens of cities around the world, provide a clean indoor environment in which people can use their own drugs with medical personnel on hand to reverse overdoses should they occur. These facilities serve as access points to substance use disorder treatment and other vital social services for drug users, such as medical care and housing.

The authors of the study, published this month in the Harm Reduction Journal, say that the findings add economic evidence to the body of research that already links such spaces to a reduction in fatal drug overdoses and an increase in people seeking treatment. "Safe consumption" spaces are especially critical right now: Last year, the United States hit a record for the number of people who have died from drug overdose, and fentanyl, a more dangerous and powerful drug than heroin, is increasingly being added to heroin in places like Baltimore.

"No one has ever died from an overdose in a safe consumption space," says the study's senior author, Susan G. Sherman, PhD, MPH, a professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School. "Thousands of lives have been saved. There are lots of doors people can walk through when they are addicted to drugs. We want them to walk through a door that may eventually lead to successful treatment - and keep them alive until they are ready for that."

Says Amos Irwin, MA, the study's lead author and program director at the Law Enforcement Action Partnership in Washington, D.C.: "Today, thousands of Baltimoreans are risking their lives to inject drugs instead of seeking treatment. We estimate that more than 100 new people would enter treatment every year if the city had a supervised injection facility. Bringing these people into a safe space actually helps reduce drug use, not increase it."

For their study, the researchers looked at the costs of operating a safe consumption space in Vancouver, the only one in North America. Then they estimated the impact on several health outcomes, based on Baltimore data.

They determined that running a 1,000-square-foot, 13-booth space in Baltimore for 18 hours a day would cost $1.8 million a year. Insite, the Vancouver facility, serves about 2,100 unique individuals a month, who perform roughly 180,000 injections per year in a space the same size.

Based on research done at Insite, they estimate that a Baltimore facility would generate $7.8 million in annual savings, preventing four HIV infections, 21 hepatitis C infections, 374 days in the hospital for skin and soft-tissue infections, six overdose deaths, 108 overdose-related ambulance calls, 78 emergency room visits and 27 overdose-related hospitalizations.

At the same time, an estimated 121 additional people would enter treatment.

"Six million dollars is a lot of money for one facility to save," Irwin says. "It is almost a third of Baltimore City's entire budget for HIV, sexually-transmitted infections and substance abuse treatment and prevention."

A bill allowing safe consumption spaces failed in the Maryland General Assembly this year. Last month, the Massachusetts Medical Society recommended opening safe consumption spaces in that state. These supervised injection facilities are a widely used public health intervention in 11 countries, mostly in Europe.

Sherman says many drug users in Baltimore are injecting on the streets or in abandoned houses, exposing them to possible violence, arrest and overdose death. Safe consumption spaces would provide clinical supervision and a clean environment, and they allow health professionals to connect drug users to critical health services. Such spaces maintain a strict prohibition on drug sharing or selling. These programs are not condoning illicit behavior, she says. They are meeting people where they are and connecting them with lifesaving resources.

The researchers did not estimate how many safe consumption spaces would be needed to service Baltimore's drug using population.

"We know what doesn't work when it comes to the so-called 'War on Drugs' in the United States because we have an opioid epidemic that is only getting worse," Sherman says. "The stakes are even higher now with so much heroin and other drugs adulterated with fentanyl. You can keep doing what you are doing or you can try something that has been proven by evidence and is considered usual care in a dozen nations."
-end-
"Mitigating the heroin crisis in Baltimore, MD, USA: a cost-benefit analysis of a hypothetical supervised injection facility" was written by Amos Irwin, Ehsan Jozaghi, Brian W. Weir, Sean T. Allen, Andrew Lindsay and Susan G. Sherman. Other collaborating institutions include the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and the University of British Columbia.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (P30AI094189) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (T32DA007292) as well as Amherst College, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Related Public Health Articles:

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.
The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.
BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.
The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.
Bloomberg American Health Initiative releases special public health reports supplement
With US life expectancy now on the decline for two consecutive years, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative is releasing a supplement to Public Health Reports, the scholarly journal of the US Surgeon General.
Data does the heavy lifting: Encouraging new public health approaches to promote the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE)
According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, almost 75 percent of US adults do not comply with public health guidelines recommending two or more muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE) sessions a week, with nearly 60 percent of the population doing no MSE at all.
The Lancet Public Health: Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health
Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fats from plant sources associated with lower risk of mortality compared to those that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fat from animal sources.
More Public Health News and Public Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.