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The Importance of Drug Jargon

People prefer "overdose prevention site" to "safe consumption site."

Safe injection sites have caught on in neighborhoods in Canada, Australia, and Europe, but they remain controversial in the United States. As the national debate rages on, a new survey offers proponents of the service sound advice: The key to garnering support could lie in the language used to describe facilities.

The survey found that 50 percent more people in those states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic said they would support an "overdose prevention site," compared with a "safe consumption site." Regardless of name, they serve the same function: offering a place where drug users can safely shoot up under the watchful eye of a trained staff.

Other organizations have relied on altered phrasings as a means of destigmatizing addiction. Pacific Standard reported in 2016 on guidelines released by the Office of National Drug Control Policy suggesting that government agencies and the researchers they fund avoid terms such as "drug habit," which suggests addiction is purely a matter of personal choice, and "getting clean," which suggests drug users are dirty. (They are said to be "in recovery" instead.)

A version of this story originally appeared in the December/January 2019 issue of Pacific Standard.