Do Addicts Need Safe Havens to Shoot Up?

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

Lately I have been having more trouble sleeping than usual. At 3 am one night while lying in bed, my mind wandered to the more than 50 personal friends I have lost to suicide, medical complications, delays in treatment, and other health issues since 2012.

By 4 am I was watching the news. I had turned on the TV because my husband moved into a position that activated his “snore button” and I wasn’t going to be able to fall back asleep with that noise.

Then a news promo came across the screen. Next up, the announcer said, we will be discussing a proposal in San Francisco to provide addicts with a supervised facility to shoot heroin and other illegal drugs. Clean needles would be provided at no cost.

They think this will reduce the chances of an overdose death. Similar proposals have been made in other cities, like New York, Seattle and Baltimore.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I hit rewind and played it again. It really was happening! With the flood of thoughts that came to me, I knew I would never get to sleep and started thinking about the implications if this type of clinic was allowed.

How many ways would it affect our society? What message is it sending? Do I want my tax dollars to go to this type of clinic? Shooting heroin is illegal and there are people who support this?

The CDC put opioid guidelines in place last year for medications that are legal, prescribed and monitored. The guidelines caused many physicians to cut off or lower opioid doses -- even though it was not what some doctors felt was best for their patients. This has led to more suicidal thoughts, attempts, and actual deaths in the pain community.

I know one lady who was unable to get her opioid prescription filled for months. When they finally filled it, she used all the medication at one time to try and kill herself. Why? She didn’t want to face not being able to get the medication again and to go through the withdrawal pain of being without it.

She didn’t die. She was found and placed in a coma in intensive care. When the woman awoke days later, she was angry that her life had been saved.  

We are cutting off pain patients from medication that is legal because abusers may overdose and die. Yet there are plans to give drug abusers who are choosing to behave illegally a safe-haven, while denying legitimate patients access to the care their providers deem necessary.

We already have naloxone and similar medications available for people who overdose. Due to the great lobbying efforts of the “stop the abuse” team, naloxone is now available without prescription in 33 states. So basically it’s wrong to prescribe opioids, but if you choose to abuse them, we want to provide a place for you to use them safely. I am flabbergasted.

Can the legit pain patient show up and get opioids at these clinics as well?

I know if I was a heroin addict where I would be living. I would have my butt planted in a safe-haven drug facility so I could never have to go through withdrawal, be monitored so I don’t overdose, not have to pay for the care, and live the life I want.

That sounds much better than the life of the chronic pain patient, who comes in monthly at their own expense to get a prescription refilled. They are often drug tested, and if anything suspicious is found in their system, they are often taken off opioids and abandoned by their doctors.

Let’s circle back with this argument. Currently, legit pain patients are getting cut off from legally prescribed medications that help them be more productive and live better lives. This leads to withdrawal, which can cause death, and an increase in suicidal thoughts and actions. Some start looking for illegal means to help alleviate their pain.

Are we going to at least provide them with Suboxone, naloxone or methadone to help them come off the opioids more humanely?

We are helping drug abusers find new ways to keep abusing, while chronic pain patients are being ignored and discounted.

Let us not forsake one group for another. We need to find ways that address both pain and addiction concurrently, that don’t affect either side negatively or take away the rights of one group to give more rights to another. Let’s lower suicide statistics for those in chronic pain and overdose statistics for those who are abusing. It can be done. Silly proposals to provide safe-haven drug facilities for illegal drug use are wrong.

I am so looking forward to hearing everyone’s opinion in the comment section. Maybe there is something I am missing as to why anyone would think this is a good idea?

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the Power of Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.