How “Safe Supply” Could Help Solve The Overdose Crisis In America

The United States has been at war with drugs for 38 years, and we clearly aren’t winning. Perhaps it’s time to consider a new “Safe supply” strategy.

The US has governed the use of drugs and drug policy since it banned opium in 1875. Since then, the government has prohibited alcohol from 1919 to 1933 and cannabis in 1925. In 1984, President Reagan declared a “War On Drugs,” which involved large-scale government crackdowns. Still, the Center For Disease Control (CDC) recorded over 100,000 drug overdoses in the United States between April 2021 and April 2022. Proving that these methods of banning the use of drugs have failed as Americans have the highest overdose rates in the world, according to a United Nations Office on Drug And Crime report.

As this crisis actively affects much of the world, some countries have been experimenting with new methods of preventing drug overdoses, including one called “safe supply” treatment. In February 2019, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, introduced a concept document exploring an alternative method of combatting overdoses by providing addicts with regulated drugs. Last July, the Vancouver City Council approved the “safe supply statement.”

“We often hear this crisis referred to as an overdose crisis, but really, we are in a drug poisoning crisis,” the statement reads. “One of the primary causes of overdose is the contamination of the illicit drug supply, and we believe that future deaths could be prevented if people could access a regulated safe supply.”

“Safe supply” is described by the Canadian Association of People Who Drugs as “a legal and regulated supply of drugs with mind/body altering properties that traditionally have been accessible only through the illicit drug market.” The idea is the supply would include a wide variety of drugs such as heroin and other opioids, cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, MDMA, LSD, and even marijuana, all free of charge.

According to Canadian Broadcasting Centre (CBC), “safe supply” is one of the latest ideas to hit the scene to reduce overdoses and other drug-induced health risks. The idea is to give addicts a “pharmaceutical” grade product that is consistent, untampered, and pure with the supervision and guidance of a professional. While giving drug addicts free drugs might seem absurd, it costs more to the government to have them incur health issues, overdose, and die than it does to provide them with a “safe supply.”

British Columbia is experimenting with two forms of safe supply available, according to CBC, and even for those people with opioid addiction who are also intravenous drug users:

In the first, participants have to attend a clinic several times a day and inject only prescribed drugs under the supervision of a nurse.

The second is more flexible. Schedules adjust with the needs of the users, who then receive a form of tablet they can inject, snort or swallow in a supervised setting.

In Amsterdam, Netherlands,  the Dutch have successfully reduced overdose deaths by introducing free heroin, according to Cleveland, a newspaper serving the northeast area of Ohio. At the clinic, 75 men and women visit twice daily to smoke or shoot up government-funded and provided heroin. The public-health experts in the Netherlands correlate free distribution as one of the reasons drug-related deaths occur less frequently than in the United States. Since its implementation, there has also been increased quality of life and reduced crime, according to Ellen van den Hoogen, who runs the clinic. While deaths in America from fatal drug overdoses are 245.8 per 1 million people, in the Netherlands is only 11.1.

According to the Premier, which tracks analytics for medical care costs, the hospital costs alone for all overdose patients in 2021 were more than $632 million in cost to hospitals. Approximately 47 percent of those patients were released, and the other 57 percent got treated and admitted. If patients got treated and released, costs totaled $504 per patient. Although, the average amount for those admitted is a staggering $11,734, and $20,500 for those who went to the ICU.

There’s no doubt that this will seem pretty extreme to many, but the reality is unregulated substances are killing people. “Safe supply” may save a lot of lives while simultaneously lowering the financial burden on taxpayers.

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