New York to open supervised injection sites in bid to curb overdose deaths

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP</span>
Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

Two supervised injection sites could be open as soon as Tuesday in Manhattan to combat a sharp increase in overdose deaths in New York City.

The two safe injection sites, one opening in East Harlem and the other in Washington Heights, will offer clean needles to drug users, administer naloxone, the opioid reversal medication, and medical assistance, and offer treatment options for drug dependency, according to city officials.

New York will be the first city in the US open an authorized injection site. Other cities such as Philadelphia, Boston and Seattle have taken initial steps to open their own injection sites, but have not managed to open the locations and they face continuing debate and scrutiny.

More than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in the US last year, a record number and a 30% rise from 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The New York safe injection locations were previously being used as needle exchange providers, a service that provides sterile needles to drug users, though some residents have taken issue with opening the sites in less affluent parts of the borough, according to the New York Times.

“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,” said Dr Dave A Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner. “We feel a deep conviction and also sense of urgency in opening overdose prevention centers.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio is in favor of the two sites. He has been a public supporter of safe injection sites since 2018, often citing the success of such harm reduction measures in European and Canadian cities. In a statement on the injection sites, De Blasio said the initiative shows other cities “after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible”.

The mayor has also promised “not to take enforcement action” against the injection sites, with four out of the five city’s district attorneys in support of the measure.

However, local attempts to implement injection sites have historically been met with pushback at the federal level. A federal mandate known as the “crack house statute” prohibits operating, owning, or renting a location for the purpose of using illegal substances. Previously, an attempt to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia was blocked by the justice department during the Trump administration.

The Biden administration has spoken positively about harm reduction methods but has not publicly endorsed safe injection sites. Chokshi said that the city has had “productive conversations” with state and federal officials in regards to the safe injection sites.