Researchers at Johns Hopkins found in a recent study that a safe consumption space for illicit drug users to inject drugs could save Baltimore $6 million a year. Photo by UPI/Shutterstock/Maxal Tamor
May 25 (UPI) -- A study at Johns Hopkins shows that a single safe injection space for illegal drug users could save $6 million a year in Baltimore, Md.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a cost-benefit analysis on the financial impact of safe consumption sites for illicit drug users in the wake of the nationwide opioid epidemic.
Safe consumption spaces -- which provide a clean indoor environment where people can use their own drugs with medical personnel on hand to reverse overdoses if needed -- currently are not legal in the United States, but have been used in several cities around the world.
The study found that safe consumption spaces can reduce overdose deaths, HIV and hepatitis C infections, overdose-related ambulance calls and hospitalizations.
"No one has ever died from an overdose in a safe consumption space," Susan G. Sherman, a professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School, said in a press release. "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."
A bill that would allow for safe consumption spaces in Maryland failed to pass the Maryland General Assembly this year, despite the Massachusetts Medical Society advocating for safe consumption spaces to be opened in the state.
Researchers examined the costs of operating a safe consumption space in Vancouver, the only safe consumption space in North America, and estimated the impact on data from Baltimore.
"Today, thousands of Baltimoreans are risking their lives to inject drugs instead of seeking treatment," said Amos Irwin, program director at the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. "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."
Researchers found that operating a 1,000-square-foot, 13-booth space in Baltimore for 18 hours a day would cost $1.8 million a year. The facility could 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 call, 78 emergency room visits and 27 overdose-related hospitalizations.
"Six million dollars is a lot of money for one facility to save," Irwin said. "It is almost a third of Baltimore City's entire budget for HIV, sexually-transmitted infections and substance abuse treatment and prevention."
The study was published in Harm Reduction Journal.