New York City Opens Nation’s First Government-Sanctioned Sites

A Cataldo Ambulance medic holds used doses of naloxone after medics revived a man in his 40’s who was found unresponsive from an opioid overdose in the Boston suburb of Salem, Mass., August 9, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

To help address the drug overdose crisis, exacerbated by the economic and social disruption of a prolonged pandemic, New York City will open two supervised injection sites in Manhattan on Tuesday to provide users a controlled environment for drug use as well as treatment options.

Stationed in the neighborhoods of East Harlem and Washington Heights, the sites will offer clean injection supplies such as needles, naloxone, an emergency drug that reverses narcotic overdose, and addiction treatment, city health officials told the New York Times. Visitors must bring their own drugs.

Critics of the facilities argue that they legitimize, destigmatize, and therefore encourage drug abuse rather than do anything constructive to mitigate the drug epidemic. While cities like San Francisco and Seattle, both ravaged by substance abuse, have considered opening injection locations, New York City is the first to formally authorize such sites.

“2020, unfortunately was the deadliest year on record for overdoses both here in New York City as well as nationally. Every four hours, someone dies of a drug overdose in New York City,” New York City health commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi told the Times. “We feel a deep conviction and also sense of urgency in opening overdose prevention centers.”

The launch of the twin injection sites in the city coincides with the expiration of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s last term, which will be succeeded by former Manhattan police chief and Democratic mayor-elect Eric Adams. Such a project is a bold exit move for de Blasio, who has been pushing for so-called harm reduction strategies such as supervised injection sites since 2018.

This unique strategy to combat the drug crisis, de Blasio wrote in a statement, will prove that “after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible.” The mayor notified the sites that he would not penalize them or “take enforcement action” , adding that law enforcement have been looped in and told to stand down.

The decision has received the backing of the majority of the city’s district attorneys, with the exception of the Staten Island district attorney Michael McMahon, who presides over a more conservative borough, the Times reported.

“We have always been trying to strike the right balance between enforcement, rehabilitation and prevention,” Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, told the publication. “I would rather have people who are going to shoot up do it in a safe and secure venue as opposed to a McDonald’s bathroom, an alleyway or a subway staircase.”

The proposal for the injection centers comes amid a record surge in drug overdose fatalities of over 100,000 between April 2020 and April 2021, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The estimated 100,306 deaths during this window represents a 29 percent increase from the estimated 78,056 overdose deaths during the same period last year, according to the latest CDC data.

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