To the editor: Supervised injection facilities are not the answer

Before Vermont considers opening a Supervised Injection Facility – a state sponsored and funded heroin injection site — there should be a full examination of the costs and benefits of such a program.

Questions that need to be fully answered include:

  • whether such facilities would lead to greater drug use, additional crime, a deterioration of community life and the cost to taxpayers, and
  • whether they aid in getting drug addicts into treatment or simply perpetrate the cycle of addiction.

Supervised Injection Facilities are a relatively new concept and are currently prohibited by federal law. While some research indicates SIFs show promise in reducing hepatitis and HIV, whether SIFs have a measurable impact on overall population health is far from clear.

In Vancouver, Canada, where SIFs have operated since 2003, overdose deaths continue to rise dramatically. In addition, there are reports of significant negative impacts associated with the SIF on the Vancouver community. It is also not clear that SIFs aid in getting drug addicts to end their addiction. The cost to Vermont taxpayers to operate a SIF could also be significant. In Toronto, the operating cost of one facility is $4.1 million (Canadian). The Vancouver site costs $3 million (Canadian) per year to operate.

It is also not clear that a SIF in Vermont would bring us closer to our ultimate goal: reducing the number of Vermonters addicted to opioids, including heroin.

Vermont already has a robust syringe exchange program and has dispensed an increasing number of syringes each year since 2010 with the total number now exceeding 4 million syringes distributed (nearly a million in 2015 alone). Despite the availability of referrals to drug treatment and other social programs at these syringe exchange locations, the number of Vermonters addicted to heroin and opioids continues to increase.

The illegal use of opioids and heroin has destroyed an untold number of lives and families in Vermont. We should be doing all we can to discourage illegal opioid and heroin use. By permitting SIFs, is Vermont at risk of condoning heroin use and giving illegal drug use the state’s stamp of approval? Should Vermont taxpayers also consider funding safe crack cocaine sites, safe alcohol sites or safe smoking lounges to assist those who are having difficulty kicking or cannot kick those addictions?

The better strategy is for Vermont to focus its limited resources on preventing the use of opioids and heroin in the first place, treating those who seek and want treatment for this disease and supporting those in recovery. Facilitating the ongoing use of heroin through SIFs sends the wrong message, at the wrong time, to the wrong people.

Thomas D. Anderson
Commissioner
VT Department of Public Safety

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