Feds fund first-time study of safe injection sites with $5M grant to NYU, Brown

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The U.S. government has awarded $5 million for two universities in New York City and Rhode Island to study whether safe injection sites for drug users prevent overdoses.

New York University’s Langone Health and Brown University in Providence, R.I., will share the grant. New York’s two sites are already up and running, while the Rhode Island site will be operational next year. Neither institution will have a hand in running the sites, they said.

It’s the first time the U.S. has funded a study of such sites, where people can take illicit drugs with medical personnel nearby to step in if they O.D. They are known as Overdose Prevention Sites or harm-reduction sites.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to study the first publicly recognized overdose prevention centers in the country across two different states, as well as the impact on the communities in which they operate,” said co-lead investigator Magdalena Cerdá, a professor in NYU Langone’s Department of Population Health .

“This research is urgently needed to inform policies that can best support public health, as more jurisdictions across the country consider implementing OPCs.”

Researchers are looking to enroll 1,000 users older than 18 who have visited such a site, NYU Langone said in a statement. They will examine how the sites affect overdoses, calculate the cost of such intervention and estimate how much money the practice would save the health care and criminal justice systems.

The sites are controversial, with opponents believing they’ll encourage illegal drug use and supporters claiming that having a safe place to use can both save lives and give people an opportunity to seek treatment.

“There is a lot of discussion about overdose prevention centers, but ultimately, we need data to see if they are working or not, and what impact they may have on the community,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which awarded the grant.

In 2021 alone, drug overdoses killed nearly 107,000 nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New York City, overdose deaths jumped by 27%. The 2,668 New Yorkers who fatally overdosed in 2021 marked a 78% increase over 2019′s toll.

New York City opened the nation’s first publicly recognized safe injection sites in 2021, the same year that Rhode Island became the first state to authorize them.

Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico lawmakers are weighing the idea, while California and Vermont have vetoed bills to establish them. Pennsylvania has voted to ban them entirely.

More than a dozen other countries already operate such sites, including Canada, Australia and France.

With News Wire Services