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Damning study shows Seattle’s heroin injection advocates are dead wrong


We know heroin injection sites don’t treat heroin addiction, which is precisely why advocates never point to data suggesting they get addicts off the drug that is ruining their lives before, inevitably, killing them.

RELATED: Seattle considered mobile safe injection site

But Seattle advocates, in their quest to bring these sites to the area, love to claim their idea will save the lives of addicts by cutting down on needle sharing and diseases associated with that behavior.

Well, they’re wrong.

A damning new study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy suggests the talking points used by advocates like Seattle Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez aren’t based in reality.

It turns out, the studies that advocates used to promote heroin injection sites were deeply flawed. Per German Lopez (who once advocated for heroin injection sites) of Vox:

One of the problems the review found is that the research is seriously lacking in this area. Out of the dozens of studies on the topic they found, the researchers concluded that only eight were rigorous and transparent enough to include in the review. With such a small pool of studies included, it’s possible – maybe even likely – that these few studies were in some ways biased, so future research could produce entirely different findings.

This was the first meta-analysis review on the topic.

Data doesn’t back up talking points

Of the 40 studies on the topic, the researchers booted the weak studies, such as those with data that couldn’t be replicated. It left them with eight meaningful studies to review.

They found, based on this data, that heroin injection sites “had no significant effect on most outcomes…” like “ambulance attendances relating to opioid-related events, overdose mortality … borrowing or sharing syringes and injecting equipment, and problematic heroin use or injection.”

“The contrast between the claims that are being made and what the evidence actually says are fairly disappointing,” according to Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford University, to Vox. Humphreys will be on KTTH Radio’s Jason Rantz Show this Friday, Aug. 31.

That so few meaningful studies exist should come as no surprise. Advocates often look to Vancouver BC’s Insite, the heroin injection site Seattle is trying to model theirs after, claim there’s plenty of evidence to back up its effectiveness. But there isn’t. One study that made the claim is highly controversial because the people who conducted the study were the ones in charge of the program.

Local expert reacts (with great bias)

Speaking of bias, perhaps that is what’s leading to one local critic taking issue with this meta-analysis.

“That’s surprising,” Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, at the University of Washington, said of this new analysis to KIRO 7. “And then you dig into it and realize they’re doing a different type of study. And they’re looking at eight studies of four locations, even though there are more than 100 locations around the world.”

Indeed, that’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re doing it because the other studies provided subpar results to review. And this meta-analysis was solid, per Lopez:

The eight studies, though, were meant to be the best that the researchers could find. The studies that were excluded were those for which the researchers couldn’t get full data sets and which didn’t have comparison groups – fairly big methodological gaps.

This is typical in meta-analyses: The ideal is randomized controlled trials. But if none exist, researchers start looking at other kinds of studies, while maintaining some level of rigor, to tease out the evidence that is available.

And what the KIRO 7 piece inadvertently left out is that Banta-Green was part of the task force recommending that heroin injection sites be opened in King County. So this meta-analysis flies in the face of what he recommended.

And his message appears to be shifting, at least in part.

“It (safe injection sites) may not help with mortality rates,” Banta-Green admitted to KIRO 7. “I suspect it does, but it’s small.”

But in March of 2017, Banta-Green pushed this idea as saving lives to The Seattle Times: “I believe there is fundamental value in keeping people alive.”

Only, it’s not keeping people alive. And now, not only is there evidence to suggest it, Banta-Green is acknowledging it may not save lives. I’m not willing to ruin any more Seattle neighborhoods; I don’t want them becoming what the neighborhood hosting InSite has become. I’ve been there. It’s horrible.

Now, like I suspect is the case with Banta-Green, I have bias, too. I am against the heroin injection sites because I don’t think it’s ethical or moral to enable addicts to destroy their lives – even if it’s more slowly than they otherwise would be acting. I believe in treatment on-demand and free addiction services across the board.

The difference, however, is my bias is backed by actual data. This data isn’t the end-all, be-all. It simply shows the talking points Progressives are using are wrong. If you show me data suggesting heroin injection sites actually get people off of heroin, I’ll happily change my positions. The advocates, like Mosqueda and Gonzales? They have nothing but blind ideology on their side. (August 2018)


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