Amidst the fatal opioid epidemic that has swept across the nation, major American cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Seattle, and San Francisco have voiced a need for supervised injection sites to stop the spread of blood-borne diseases and prevent overdose deaths. New York City is officially throwing its hat into the ring. Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed a new plan to combat the rampant opiate crisis in the Big Apple, which includes supervised injection sites – a potential solution for which many citizens and politicians have been openly lobbying in recent years.
This decision has been officially in the works since 2016 when a report was requested by the City Council. The report was finally completed a few months ago, but not released to the public until now, after thorough review by the mayor. The report lays out a plan to open four supervised injection sites that will be referred to as overdose prevention centers. Mayor de Blasio stated, “After a rigorous review of similar efforts across the world, and after careful consideration of public health and safety expert views, we believe overdose prevention centers will save lives and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction.”
Canadian and European cities which have already implemented centers like these have successfully steered addicts away from lives of crime, prevented many ER trips and deaths due to overdoses, and seen a decrease in disease.
The supervised injection sites are expected to open in the next six months to a year and will be funded and operated by nonprofit organizations. Since needle exchange sites already exist that currently provide clean syringes and social work services to intravenous drug users, those facilities may be converted in to the overdose prevention centers. The mission of these centers will be to provide a supervised place for those caught in the grips of addiction to use their drugs where they could be administered Narcan in the event of an overdose. Social workers will be present to support and guide these people to substance abuse treatment.
Many are concerned about the legality surrounding the proposed supervised injection sites. At the state level, health commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker has been petitioned to allow the four centers to legally operate under the same law that granted protection to organizations attempting to open needle exchanges in the early ‘90’s. The letter to Dr. Zucker stated, “You are authorized to license research studies that may include the possession of controlled substances.” A spokesperson from the health department, Gary Holmes, responded promptly, “We of course support the mission of reducing opioid-related deaths and have been studying multiple options for combating the opioid epidemic.” Although no answer has been received from the health department just yet, the hope is that they will recognize how much of a positive impact needle exchanges have made and that they were proposed in the same manner as these supervised injection sites and could potentially be protected by the same statutes.
The state government is only a molehill to leap over compared to the mountain of the federal government that must be climbed. There is a law known as the “crack house statute” which deems that knowingly opening, renting, using, or maintaining a location for the aim of manufacturing, distributing, or using controlled substances is a felony. The mayor’s press secretary, Eric F. Phillips, released a written statement in regard to such federal laws that could get in the way of opening the supervised injection sites, “We don’t believe a president who has routinely voiced concern about the national opioid epidemic will use finite federal law enforcement resources to prevent New York City from saving lives.”
Last year, in New York City alone, there was a total of 1,441 deaths from drug overdoses. Even with the many efforts of law enforcement, medical professionals, and social services in the city to fight the opioid epidemic, that number of overdose deaths increased from the year prior. It’s time to try something new because everyone deserves a chance to recover from addiction. Every overdose does not need to be fatal – a dead addict cannot recover.