NYC to open nation's first safe injection sites after record-setting year for overdoses

The sites will offer clean needles, info about addiction treatment and naloxone


By Paul Liotta
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

NEW YORK — New York City will be the first in the nation to open safe injection sites starting Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio's office announced.

Two of the sites, also called overdose prevention centers (OPC), will open in the Manhattan neighborhoods of East Harlem and Washington Heights, according to a City Hall spokesman. No other sites are planned at this time, he said.

"New York City has led the nation's battle against COVID-19, and the fight to keep our community safe doesn't stop there," de Blasio said. "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."

States and municipalities around the nation, including Philadelphia and Seattle, have sought to open OPCs or similar operations for the better part of a decade. Part of the hesitation has been a concern over federal intervention, particularly under former President Donald Trump's administration.

City officials said they felt it was time to make the move toward OPCs after a record-setting year of overdose deaths in the five boroughs and across the country fueled, in large part, by the prevalence of fentanyl in street drugs.

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According to the media release, more than 2,000 people died of a drug overdose in New York City in 2020 — the most since recording began in 2000 — and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) project that more than 90,000 died across the U.S. last year.

The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics shared an even grimmer projection on Nov. 17 estimating that more than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdose from April 2020 to April 2021, roughly the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the five boroughs, the Bronx saw the worst death toll last year with 48 residents per 100,000 losing their life to drug overdose. Staten Island was second seeing 37 per 100,000 residents die that way, according to the city's media release.

The Advance/SILive.com reported earlier this month that there have been 198 overdoses so far this year, of which 72 were fatal, according to preliminary data from the office of District Attorney Mike McMahon.

The city's Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said that the OPCs are part of a broader strategy of harm reduction.

Drug users will be able to bring their drugs to the sites where trained staff will provide clean needles, monitor them during use, and be on hand to provide overdose-reversing treatments like naloxone if necessary.

Additionally, the sites, which will be located at existing syringe service providers, will offer information and service related to addiction treatment.

"The national overdose epidemic is a five-alarm fire in public health, and we have to tackle this crisis concurrently with our COVID fight," Chokshi said. "Giving people a safe, supportive space will save lives and bring people in from the streets, improving life for everyone involved."

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(c)2021 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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