Alþingi has passed a bill which will make it legal for municipalities around the country to open safe injection sites (SIS) for intravenous drug users, Vísir reports. Heiða Björg Hilmisdóttir, chair of the City of Reykjavík’s Welfare Committee, has praised the bill as a step in the right direction and believes that in Reykjavík, such a facility would do the greatest good if opened downtown. According to the SIS bill, around 700 people use intravenous drugs in Iceland each year. It’s estimated that somewhere between 25 and 40 people would use the Reykjavík SIS initially.
Safe injection sites (also referred to as overdose prevention centres, supervised injection facilities, or drug consumption rooms) are facilities where individuals over the age of 18 can use intravenous drugs in a safe environment, under the supervision of healthcare professionals and without fear of arrest or legal repercussions. They are intended to provide sterile injection supplies, provide healthcare guidance, referrals to rehabilitation and social services, and monitor for overdose, thus decreasing overdose-related expense and pressures on the healthcare system, increasing the likeliness of users seeking treatment and social aid, and reducing behaviours that put users at risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C, such as needle sharing.
“This is a really good step,” remarked Heiða Björg on the passing of the new bill, “but we would have liked to maybe see the report more clearly indicate that there would be low-cost healthcare services there [at the SIS]—that it would be a health clinic.”
Heiða Björg also believes that the government should bear the financial burden of healthcare services in safe injection facilities, not the local municipalities that open them. “It really isn’t fair to completely pass the ball to the municipalities,” she continued. “There needs to be a guarantee of funding for such operations.” The Minister of Health has yet to fully outline what services SISs will offer.
Heiða Björg says the city is prepared to help identify a suitable location for an SIS in Reykjavík but thinks that it’s clear that such a facility needs to be centrally located. “I think most professionals agree that it would be preferable for it to be somewhere central, where people are coming and going. We’ve really been looking at downtown.”
Wherever it’s located, the Reykjavík SIS will likely not open until next year. “If I tell it exactly like it is, then I think that this will take at least a year—based on my experience, for instance, finding [housing] for people who have been, or currently are, homeless. I think we have to just give this time but we are ready to get this done quickly and correctly if the funds for the project are guaranteed,” she concluded.