A Place To Shoot Up And Stay Alive

Design by Jena Salvatore Annie Hall-Streeter raised her family in Syracuse and appeared to have everything under control. To her peers and loved ones, she was a seemingly effortless mother and wife—your everyday soccer mom—but she was hiding behind a dark secret.

While her children were in grade school, she was fighting a nasty addiction to heroin. After years of keeping her secret under wraps, Streeter lost control and the addiction became obvious. She lost her home, left her kids, and lived in someone else’s basement. She was ashamed about the state of her life, but no matter how many times she decided to fight her addiction, she continued to break away from the life she wanted to take her daily trip to the backdoor of a methadone clinic.

Streeter explained that she would never have gone into a supervised injection facility had it been an option when she was an addict, because it would mean revealing to the community that she injected heroin.

Supervised injection facilities are one of the new propositions to prevent fatal overdoses from opiates and heroin. They are intended to provide a place in local communities where addicts have access to medical care and clean needles to use controlled substances in a safe environment.

Today, Streeter has been clean for 17 years, but lost her son to a heroin overdose in August.

“People all around us were dying from it,” Streeter said. “He never thought for a moment it could happen to him, so he became one of those statistics, sadly.”

ACR Health in Syracuse recently began advocating for heroin injection centers as a call for a “radical solution” to a problem that has impacted, and ended, many lives within the area.

In 2015, there were 44 unintentional heroin-related deaths in Onondaga County, and that number rose to 72 deaths in 2016, according to ongov.net.

With the existing high levels of heroin and opioid use in Syracuse, there is concern from citizens like Deanna Axe, who raised her family in Syracuse and lost her 5 ½–month pregnant daughter to a fentanyl-poisoned shot of heroin last year. Many who have had experiences like Axe’s are apprehensive about approving a place for addicts to be permitted to use.

Many other countries have implemented this method; the Medically Supervised Injection Centre in Sydney, Australia is a facility that is in operation today. Dr. Kate Dolan was a part of the first needle and syringe program in Australia and has conducted studies on the effectiveness of these supervised facilities.

Dolan said that some of the results were very positive, including no deaths due to overdose, a decrease of public nuisance—such as public injecting and syringe debris—and a decrease in hepatitis C and HIV contractions.

“The facility in Sydney just recorded that one million injections have been observed,” Dolan said. “Whatever percent, we don’t know, but some percent of those injections would have resulted in a fatal overdose.”

According to a study by the Drug and Alcohol Review on supervised drug facilities, to which Dr. Dolan contributed, 39 facilities in different countries were surveyed and interviewed to understand the impact they were having on the communities around them. The study showed that it’s important that police and residents are invested in seeing these facilities in their community to ensure there is law and order.

There have been some observable concerns with these facilities; six of the facilities that participated in this study reported that drug dealing in the area increased. Others reported fights among clients outside of the facility, an increase in petty crimes and condemnation from the locals in the community.

Axe doesn’t feel that supervised drug facilities will help with recovery and believes that taking this same approach to implement a facility that doesn’t encourage further drug use would have the same positive effects.

“If they build the same culture, but in the form of a detox center where people knew they wouldn’t be turned away, they could build that trust and facilitate a treatment plan,” Axe said, “but not give them the ability to use right there. I think that’s just crazy.”

Ryan Barone, a community engagement coordinator at ACR Health, works closely with those struggling with addiction in Syracuse and feels that the supervised drug facilities would be beneficial to the community. Barone said they would give people a place to use but would also provide an opportunity to medical professionals to educate users about getting clean when they feel they are ready and ultimately prevent drug-caused death.

“Drug addiction is going to exist forever, so stopping drug use overall isn’t something that I think is possible in a society,” Barone says. “But stopping the way we view drug use and the way we handle drug addicts is what I think things like supervised drug use facilities lead to.”

There is an aura that looms over the concept of addiction and drug addicts. It’s not a subject many want to talk about or address while people in Syracuse continue to die from heroin overdoses. Maybe a different approach to drug addiction could stop death and detach the mystery and confusion around drug use.

“People don’t want to think about it until it happens to them,” Axe said. “I think people are finally starting to realize it’s a suburban problem, maybe even more than an inner-city problem.”