WASHINGTON (Oct. 12, 2022)–A new report published today by Chelsea Boyd, research fellow for the Integrated Harm Reduction Policy Program at the R Street Institute, examines the benefits of overdose prevention centers (OPCs) and recommends ways that federal- and state-level policymakers can approach this novel intervention.

The United States is in the midst of an overdose crisis. In 2021, an estimated 107,622 people died from overdoses, representing a 15 percent increase over 2020. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vast majority of these fatal overdoses may have been prevented with timely medical intervention.

OPCs are one such intervention that can save lives. These facilities—also called supervised consumption facilities, supervised injection sites or drug consumption rooms—are places where individuals can consume pre-obtained substances under the supervision of medical or other staff trained to respond to an overdose. But that isn’t all they do. OPCs are also important links to treatment for substance use disorder and testing for infectious diseases.

Research has shown that OPCs do not increase crime or drug use and—crucially—there has never been a reported overdose death at an OPC. In addition, they have been shown to reduce syringe and consumption equipment sharing; decrease overdose deaths in the area around the center; prevent new HIV and hepatitis C infections; increase treatment uptake; and decrease public injecting and syringe litter.

Policymakers at all levels of government should explore the promise of OPCs. At the national level, Congress might consider reexamining statute 21 USC 856 of the Controlled Substances Act, which makes it illegal to knowingly manage or control a place for the purpose of using a controlled substance. At the state level, policymakers can introduce legislation that authorizes the creation of OPCs as pilot programs, which allows them to be rigorously evaluated and ensures that their existence does not conflict with state law. At the local level, jurisdictions that have already approved or opened these facilities can provide roadmaps for policymakers demonstrating how they, too, can facilitate the opening of OPCs.

“Just as harm reduction encourages people to make incremental changes to reduce risk, incremental policy changes can also have a significant impact on the population as a whole. Overdose prevention centers are a powerful and cost-effective harm reduction tool that can help save the lives of individuals who use drugs,” concluded Boyd.

Read the full policy study here.