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Psychiatr Serv. 2019 Apr 1;70(4):294-301. doi: 10.1176/ Epub 2019 Feb 13.

Establishing Sanctioned Safe Consumption Sites in the United States: Five Jurisdictions Moving the Policy Agenda Forward.

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Department of Health Policy and Management (Kennedy-Hendricks, Bluestein, Barry), Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research (Kennedy-Hendricks, Bluestein, Barry, Sherman), and Department of Health Behavior and Society (Sherman), all at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore; Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Division, RTI International, San Francisco (Kral).



Safe consumption sites enable use of preobtained drugs in hygienic settings where trained staff are available to respond to overdoses and connect individuals with health and social services. This study examined efforts to advance policies to establish safe consumption sites in the United States, where no sanctioned sites exist.


Between April and July 2018, the authors conducted 25 telephone interviews with a purposive sample of key informants in five communities considering safe consumption site implementation. Participants included organizers and advocates, government officials, and personnel with social service and health organizations. Interview notes were analyzed by using hybrid inductive-deductive coding.


Key strategies for organizing support for safe consumption sites included involving people who use drugs, engaging diverse partners, supporting allies in related causes, and using various tactics to garner support from policy makers. Major barriers to adoption included identifying the right locations, uncertainty about the federal response, mistrust arising from racial injustice in drug policy, and financing. Participants identified facilitators of progress toward safe consumption site adoption, such as building on existing harm reduction programs, securing political champions, and exposing community officials to programs operating internationally.


A window of opportunity may be opening to advance policy related to safe consumption sites; whether sanctioned sites become part of the broader policy strategy for addressing drug use and overdose in the United States will depend on the experiences of the first sites. Organizing around this issue may facilitate engagement among people who use drugs in broader conversations about drug policy.


Drug overdose; Public health; Public policy issues; Substance-related disorders


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