Arguments supporting and opposing legalization of safe consumption sites in the U.S.

Colleen L. Barry, Susan G. Sherman, Elizabeth Stone, Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, Jeff Niederdeppe, Sarah Linden, Emma E. McGinty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: Safe consumption sites are spaces where people can legally use pre-obtained drugs under medical supervision and are currently in operation in Canada, Australia and Western Europe. These sites are effective in reducing opioid overdose mortality and other harms associated with opioid use, such as HIV infection, and increasing drug treatment entry. Various U.S. communities are considering establishing safe consumption sites, however, only 29% of U.S. adults support their legalization. This purpose of this study is to assess what types of arguments resonate with the public in support of and opposition to legalizing safe consumption sites to combat the opioid epidemic. Methods: A public opinion survey of U.S. adults in July-August 2017 (N = 1004) used a probability-based sample of respondents from a large, nationally representative online panel. The survey examined the public's perception of the strength of common arguments offered in support of and opposition to legalizing safe consumption sites. Arguments were identified through a detailed scan of news media coverage, public reports, and advocacy materials. Results: The national sample of U.S. adults rated all arguments opposing legalization of safe consumption sites as stronger than any of the arguments supporting legalization. The most highly rated opposing arguments were that public funds were better spent on addiction treatment, and that sites were allowing illegal activity and encouraging people to use drugs. The highest rated arguments supporting legalization were that safe consumption sites were a better alternative than arresting people for using drugs, they would reduce HIV and hepatitis C by encouraging safe injection practices, and that they would lower emergency department admission and hospitalization costs. Conclusion: Legalization of this evidence-based harm reduction approach in U.S. communities will be difficult to advance without public education to confront persistent myths that safe consumption sites encourage drug use and do not facilitate treatment access.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-22
Number of pages5
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Harm reduction
  • Public opinion
  • Safe consumption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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