The sites — which offer addicts clean needles, medical supervision and quick access to drugs that reverse the effects of an overdose — have long been popular in Europe. Now, with the U.S. death toll rising, the idea is gaining traction in a number of American cities, including Boston, New York City and Ithaca, N.Y.
While opponents say the sites promote illegal drug use, supporters say they can keep people alive and steer them toward treatment. They compare supervised injection facilities to the needle exchanges that became popular in the 1980s and 1990s as a way to stanch the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among intravenous drug users.
“These sites save lives and that is our goal in Seattle/King County,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (D) said in a statement.
The sites are not currently legal under federal law, according to Kelly Dineen, a professor of health law at Saint Louis University School of Law. A provision of the Controlled Substances Act makes it illegal to operate facilities where drugs are used, she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a record 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015. Opioids now kill more people each year than car accidents. In 2015, the number of heroin deaths nationwide surpassed the number of deaths from gun homicides.
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