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New York City’s Supervised Injection Sites Call for Biden’s Support |

Within a matter of weeks, New York City’s supervised injection stations have already saved many lives. Leaders in the city called on the Biden Administration to allow similar harm reduction programs to be used nationwide.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s health department announced on November 30 that the nation’s first publicly recognized overdose prevention centers (OPCs) had commenced operations in the city. OPCs, also known as supervised injecting sites or OPCs, offer safe places to use illicit drugs while being monitored by staff who are trained to respond to an overdose.

Other services, such as HIV testing or clean needle swapping, are frequently available at supervised injecting sites.

De Blasio has called for OPC pilot programs since 2018. He noted that in New York City, more than 2000 people were killed by drug overdoses in 2020. This is the highest total since records began in 2000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 90.000 people overdosed in the United States in 2020. This was the most severe year yet.

Lives are saved at supervised injection sites

Over-supervised injections have saved many lives over the years. These programs have been proven effective by research conducted at over 100 facilities in the past 30 years. Overdoses have never been reported at any supervised injection site. Additionally, research shows that such facilities decrease public drug use and littering, as well as drug-related crime within the neighborhood.

“After exhaustive study, we know the right path forward to protect the most vulnerable people in our city, and we will not hesitate to take it,” de Blasio said in a statement at the time. “Overdose Prevention Centers are a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis. I’m proud to show cities in this country that after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible.”

Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the City Council Health Committee, said that “NYC has taken historic action against the mounting crisis of opioid deaths with the opening of the nation’s first overdose prevention centers.”

“This strategy is proven to save lives, and is desperately needed at a moment when fatalities are rising fast,” Levine added. “I applaud the city as well as the providers who offer these lifesaving services for this bold approach to stopping this crisis.”

The city’s OPCs are operated by outreach and education group New York Harm Reduction Educators, which has opened two supervised injection sites at existing facilities in Harlem and Washington Heights. Two weeks in, there were 350 registered participants at the sites. Staff had also reversed 43 overdoses according to WNYC/Gothamist’s report.

Biden Administration Supports City Leaders

The success of New York’s OPCs has led a group of city leaders to call on the administration of President Joe Biden to support federal authorization of supervised injection sites nationwide. The federal Controlled Substances Act makes it illegal for anyone to rent or own a facility that is used by illegal drugs. 

A December 15th op.ed by New York City Health Commissioner Dave A. Chokshi and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clar, Brooklyn District attorney Eric Gonzalez, Queens County Attorney Melinda Katz, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, called upon Biden for legal protection to OPCs that open in the United States. 

In a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Galrland, they noted that New York joined San Francisco, Oakland and Philadelphia in April. They asked the Justice Department not to prioritize enforcement of federal drug laws against controlled injection sites. However, federal officials have yet to respond.

The civic leaders also noted that Biden had recently become the first president to include harm reduction in his drug policy priorities and said that New York’s OPCs could be a model for the nation. Congress approved the American Rescue Plan, which provided $30 million for state, tribal, and local governments to provide harm reduction and overdose prevention services.

“It is time to embrace bold strategies in the face of public health crises, even if they may seem radical at first,” they wrote in the BuzzFeed News op-ed. “Thirty years ago, in the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, New York City activists started one of the first syringe service programs in the country and, as a result, reduced HIV transmission among people who inject drugs, averting countless deaths.”

“We urge the Biden administration to endorse overdose prevention centers, empowering state and local jurisdictions to fully leverage their resources and authority to build healthier and safer cities, towns and communities,” the civic leaders concluded.