When I heard about Philadelphia officials’ decision to allow a CUES, also known as a safe injection site, in the city, I thought the entire idea was more of a fantasy than a legal reality. But once I learned the undeniable benefits of these sites, it was impossible not to support this lifesaving approach to the opioid epidemic.
CUES, an acronym for comprehensive user engagement site, is a facility where people can use drugs and access medical care and drug treatment. And considering the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has projected 1,200 overdose deaths in 2017, I think that this decision was fundamentally important in combating this epidemic.
Health Commissioner Tom Farley said District Attorney Larry Krasner would not criminally prosecute these sites. The city is currently looking for funding to establish a CUES.
Since this epidemic seems to be happening in our own backyard, I think the university should be a part of the funding that makes this site a reality.
The university has responded to the opioid epidemic with research at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine and prevention initiatives at its Center for Substance Abuse Research.
Joseph Alkus, a criminal justice professor, also started carrying naloxone, known by its brand name Narcan, during Fall 2017. The nasal spray can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, and it’s Alkus’ way of combating the epidemic.
“If you look at a map of overdoses in the Philadelphia area, there is a cluster really close to Temple University and one really close to where I live,” Alkus said. “It’s where I live and where I work.”
With professors doing their part and the Lewis Katz School of Medicine already researching solutions, the next step for Temple in helping to combat opioid use and overdoses would be offering to fund a CUES.
In the past, a punitive approach has been used to try to combat addiction, like the War on Drugs — a government-led initiative that started in the 1970s and aimed to stop illegal drug use and trade by increasing and enforcing penalties for offenders.
This path rarely solves the issue. The concept of keeping users safe while they begin the process of sobriety, if they elect to do so, is much more practical.
Temple University Collegiate Recovery Program President Robert Lamb, a graduate student majoring in public health and health policy and management, said these sites would “play a beneficial role in decreasing the number of [overdose] deaths.”
“I think it could definitely have a big impact on [the number of overdose deaths] because I know that there would be trained staff professionals on site,” Lamb said.
According to a report in The Lancet, a medical journal, overdose deaths in the Vancouver area of Canada decreased by 35 percent since the establishment of a safe injection site in 2003. It decreased the amount of syringe sharing and made participants more likely to enter a detoxification program. This evidence means sites are worth investing in.
A CUES in the city, funded by our university, would also lessen the stigma for drug users. Society should treat addiction as a disease, not a moral miscoming that leads to incarceration.
“If people have areas that they know are safe, and they know that they can utilize these areas and not be demonized or criminalized for it, that would be really beneficial,” Lamb said.
Having a single CUES in the city would save 25 to 75 lives a year and millions of dollars in hospital costs and public funds, according to a report released by city officials on the possibility of the sites.
“The promise is not to dissuade people, it’s to help,” Alkus said. “We need to take a comprehensive strategy. … It’s not an easy deal, but a necessary deal.”
It’s time to think logically and morally about an epidemic that dramatically affects the Philadelphia community.
As a university, we should demonstrate that we truly value the lives of those with an addiction.