New Safe Recovery Sites to Be Centers of Hope and Compassion

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In many cases, substance use disorder is a disease suffered in isolation, as people often avoid treatment or health care due to stigma and other barriers. Preventing overdoses and providing paths to recovery requires resources – but perhaps the most important resource is human connection.

This year, the Minnesota Legislature authorized the creation of Safe Recovery Sites, which will offer a variety of harm reduction supplies and services for people experiencing substance use disorder. Communities offering such spaces have documented how safe recovery sites save lives and provide public health and economic benefits for communities. They reduce 911 calls, ambulance rides, and hospital stays for overdose, and reduce HIV and Hepatitis C transmission, as well as substance use-related wounds and infections. They attend to social and communal impacts of substance use disorder, like reducing syringe litter or public use. And most importantly, they provide connections that help people access treatment and needed supports.

Safe Recovery Sites provide outreach and wraparound services, and compassion to people who are struggling. These sites can foster trusted and stabilizing relationships – especially for those belonging to marginalized communities and those who are unhoused. At these sites, staff can provide education and referrals to treatment and recovery services, mental health services, housing, nutrition, health care, holistic support, and other critical services. Safe Recovery Sites are centers of hope and acceptance where people can embrace the possibilities of healing and recovery.

Preventing overdoses and providing paths to recovery requires resources – but perhaps the most important resource is human connection.There have been questions about the establishment of safer use spaces, which was included in the legislation as a possible service at these sites. Safer use spaces are places within a harm reduction program where people who use drugs can do so under the supervision of trained professionals. This ensures that people are reducing the risks of injection-related wounds, while having someone nearby to respond in the event of an overdose.

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In places where spaces like this have been established, the results have been highly effective in saving lives and improving public health. For instance, since opening in November 30, 2021, New York City’s safer use space program has served more than 3,000 people and overseen more than 66,000 doses. In that time, they have intervened in more than 800 overdoses. None of those overdoses have resulted in death. In addition, participants have reported an overall reduction in use and injecting after accessing services.

We see tremendous value and life-saving potential to having this service in Minnesota and recognize the ongoing policy development work and community engagement needed with community partners, law enforcement, and other critical partners on the safer use aspect of the Safe Recovery Sites.

While those discussions continue, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) plans to release the first funding for Safe Recovery Sites to expand existing harm reduction services. This funding will build capacity at existing harm reduction sites – and possible new sites – to provide the other seven services included in the legislation:

  • Sterile syringe exchanges
  • Opiate antagonist rescue kits
  • Fentanyl and other drug testing
  • Street outreach
  • Education and referral services
  • Health, safety, and wellness services
  • Access to hygiene and sanitation.

Creating these settings can be a breakthrough for Minnesota’s work to remedy substance use disorder. To help us start these settings in a good way, DHS is beginning community engagement efforts for Safe Recovery Sites. We are committed to engaging people and communities who have experienced substance use disorder and have been most impacted by this disease.

We value the work of all our partners in the harm reduction community and know we need their perspectives to get this right. Individuals and families across the state are suffering and are counting on us to get this right. We need their perspectives, too. Together, we can save lives, prevent the spread of disease, and reduce the impacts of opioid abuse on our communities.

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I invite you to learn more about Safe Recovery Sites and Minnesota’s process for establishing them here.

Jen Sather is the deputy director of substance use disorder services at the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Behavioral Health Division.

Last Updated on January 15, 2024

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