Overdose Prevention Centers

Insite, North America’s first legal supervised injection site, in Vancouver. (Photo courtesy of Vancouver Coastal Health)

Overdose prevention centers (OPCs) are vital in the fight against overdose deaths and are proven to stop a fatal overdose. OPCs provide a sanctioned, safe space for people to consume pre-obtained drugs in controlled settings under the supervision of trained staff and with access to sterile consumption equipment and tools to check their supply for the presence of fentanyl. Participants can also receive health care, counseling, and referrals to health and social services, including drug treatment. 

They are also called supervised consumption services (SCS), supervised injection facilities (SIFs), and drug consumption rooms (DCRs).

Facility staff members do not directly assist in consumption or handle any drugs brought in by clients, but are present to provide sterile injection supplies, answer questions on safe injection practices, administer first aid if needed, and monitor for overdose. This is particularly pertinent to fentanyl because the onset of overdose is rapid and waiting for an ambulance may mean death or permanent brain damage due to lack of oxygen. Overdose prevention center staff also offer general medical advice and referrals to drug treatment, medical treatment, and other social support programs. 

There are almost 200 OPCs currently operating in fourteen countries around the world (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the US). 

Benefits of Overdose Prevention Centers

More than 100 evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies have consistently proven the positive impacts of overdose prevention centers, including: 

  • Increasing entry into substance use disorder treatment, and the delivery of medical and social services
  • Preventing overdose deaths (there has not been a single overdose fatality at any OPC worldwide), and safely managing on-site overdoses
  • Providing a safe place for people who use drugs to find connection and care without stigma or fear of criminalization
  • Reducing the amount and frequency that clients use drugs
  • Reducing public drug use and syringe and/or other drug paraphernalia litter
  • Reducing HIV and Hepatitis C risk behavior (i.e. syringe sharing, unsafe sex)
  • Saving costs due to a reduction in disease, overdose deaths, and need for emergency medical services

Overdose Prevention Centers in the U.S.

In December 2021, New York City opened the nation's first-ever overdose prevention center pilots. In its first year of operation, it is reported that they have reversed more than 603 overdoses and have had no deaths, which tracks outcomes at centers worldwide. This lifesaving win comes after years of hard-fought advocacy led by the Drug Policy Alliance and our allies. 

“Studies from other countries have shown that [overdose prevention centers] reduce the number of overdose deaths, reduce transmission rates of infectious disease, and increase the number of individuals initiating treatment for substance use disorders without increasing drug trafficking or crime in the areas where the facilities are located.” – American Medical Association

Building Momentum for Overdose Prevention Centers with DPA Leading the Way

We’ll build on our momentum with similar efforts to establish overdose prevention centers in other cities and states across the country. We hope other states will follow New York's example. The Drug Policy Alliance has long been advocating for OPC pilot programs in California, Washington, Colorado, Vermont, New York, and Maryland, among other states. OPCs can play a vital role as part of a larger public health approach to drug policy. They are intended to complement – not replace – existing prevention, harm reduction, and treatment interventions.

We envision a world where one day we won’t even need overdose prevention centers, where we take care of people before they experience a crisis. We want people to be whole – overdose prevention centers are a bridge to get us there.

See our fentanyl report to learn about more health-centered solutions to the overdose crisis.

Supervised Consumption Services