In November of 2021, New York City opened the doors of its first supervised injection sites. The sites have become a soapbox for many in the GOP, as figures like Marsha Blackburn have claimed outrage over President Biden’s “crack pipe distribution plan.” 

Not only is Blackburn’s comment offensive in its use of polarizing and racialized drug rhetoric, but it displays a complete ignorance of supervised injection sites as a whole. This is unsurprising behavior from Blackburn, as her claims of “fighting the opioid crisis” have gone without any political support throughout her years as a representative of Tennessee. Tennessee, by the way, ranks in the top among states most impacted by drug deaths.

When state legislators refuse to care for their constituents and choose to demonize them for political brownie points instead, the importance of alternative solutions to public health crises becomes glaringly obvious. Citizen-led aid can only stretch so far in such severe circumstances, however.

This is why harm reduction efforts matter. As long as drug addiction is viewed as a personal moral failing instead of a national sickness, those who die of preventable drug-related causes will be impersonally villainized rather than mourned. 

While efforts to minimize addiction in the United States remain on the backburner, it is essential to minimize drug-related deaths in real time. Safe injection sites are a massive key to harm reduction, as they significantly reduce overdoses and other tragedies. New York has already seen widespread success with their centers.

It is impossible to eradicate drug use through “tough on crime rhetoric.” In reality, what these words do is alert constituents that their representatives do not see them as people, but as political pawns. 

Empathy is not a prerequisite for election to the United States government. Empathy is, however, necessary to keep communities alive.

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