“Safe consumption sites,” where people can use pre-obtained drugs with medically trained personnel on hand to treat overdoses, garner higher public support when they are called “overdose prevention sites,” according to a study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The researchers, in a study published on August 8 in the American Journal of Public Health, surveyed representative national samples of Americans and found that only 29 percent of respondents were in favor of “safe consumption sites,” but 45 percent supported them when the term “overdose prevention sites” was used instead.
Safe consumption sites are already legally operated in Canada, Europe and Australia, and have been found to reduce overdose deaths as well as HIV and hepatitis virus transmission. These sites are being considered in a number of jurisdictions in the U.S. including San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York City and Ithaca, New York, but so far, none have moved forward to establish them. A shift to describe these sites as overdose prevention sites could make it easier to increase public support and eventually establish them, particularly in regions heavily affected by the opioid epidemic.
“The lack of support, despite strong evidence that these sites save lives, prompted us to wonder whether changing the language used to describe them might increase public acceptance,” says lead study author Dr. Colleen L. Barry, Fred and Julie Soper Professor and chair of the department of health policy and management at the Bloomberg School. “Previous research suggests that how an issue is framed can matter when persuading the public to get behind evidence-based approaches, particularly controversial ones,” she adds. “In this case, we found that substituting just three words boosts public support by 16 percentage points.”