On August 7, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang tweeted his support for safe consumption sites (SCS) in the US. SCS, also known as overdose prevention sites, allow people to use drugs in a controlled environment under the supervision of nurses equipped with naloxone and other medical supplies. Despite US federal opposition to SCS, they greatly improve health outcomes and reduce mortality for people who use drugs.
“We need more evolved approaches to opiate addiction,” Yang tweeted. “Overdose prevention sites would save lives—they are already helping people struggling with substance abuse in other countries.” He shared an article about SCS written by Kate Knibbs in the Ringer—which in turn referenced a Filter article about Carol Katz Beyer, a drug policy reform advocate who lost two of her three sons to fentanyl-involved overdose.
Yang, the founder of New York-based non-profit Venture for America, is among the few 2020 candidates to have released dedicated proposals around the overdose crisis. He is calling for the decriminalization of personal use and possession of opioids. “When caught with a small quantity of any opioid, our justice system should err on the side of providing treatment,” he said. He is proposing to quintuple federal funding—from $4.5 billion to $20 billion—to address opioid addiction through treatment and rehabilitation programs.
Yang’s plan would also make it much harder to prescribe opioids—a move that could be damaging given the discrimination and suffering faced by many pain patients who are refused, or cut off from, medication, as Filter has often reported. His plan would see the FDA requiring doctors to complete special training before being allowed to prescribe opioids, and only hospitals would be allowed to prescribe them—not doctors’ offices and practices.
Troublingly, his plan also requires patients who have overdosed to be sent to “mandatory treatment centers” for three days to convince them to seek long-term treatment. A 2016 global analysis in the British Medical Journal found that mandatory drug treatment done without a patient’s informed consent violates their civil rights, does more harm than good, and does not reduce their drug use.
As Yang recognized, about 120 legal SCS currently operate in 12 countries around the world. A 2014 literature review in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence research journal found that these facilities promote safer injection methods, increase access to primary healthcare, and reduce frequency of overdose. They also did not increase drug injecting, drug trafficking, or crime in their communities. They reduced levels of used syringe litter. With naloxone on hand, no overdose death has been recorded in an SCS.
Filter has previously reported on SCS in Sydney, Australia and Lisbon, Portugal. No legal SCS currently exist in the US, though that hasn’t stopped activists in cities like Seattle from going underground to offer these services.
City governments including New York and Philadelphia have moved towards opening SCS. Currently, the US Attorney General for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is taking legal action against one proposed facility in Philadelphia.
Photo of Andrew Yang by Nanette Konig via the Andrew Yang 2020 Campaign.