NEW YORK () — In an attempt to curb a surge in overdose deaths caused by increasingly potent street drugs, New York City authorized two supervised injection sites in Manhattan that began operating last November.
While the idea of government-approved locations where addicts can come and ingest illegal drugs has been controversial, with many wondering if they’re stopping overdoses, the centers are open and operating.
Supporters say they’re getting results and saving lives.
In New York City, every three hours someone suffers a fatal drug overdose, according to the city’s health department.
As fentanyl and heroin continue to flood the city, overdose deaths have reached historic levels. In 2021, New York became the first city in the nation to open “overdose prevention centers” where people can use illegal drugs under supervision.
“There’s no war on drugs in this country; there’s a war on drug users,” said Sam Rivera, the executive director of Onpoint NYC, the nonprofit that runs both of the centers operating in Manhattan.
The sites don’t sell drugs — users bring their own — but are under the supervision of trained medical staff who monitor and watch for signs of overdose and can administer an antidote such as Narcan if needed. Sterile syringes and other accoutrements are on hand if needed.
Rivera said they’ve conducted more than 600 overdose interventions in the last year.
“We’ve been open a year, not one death,” Rivera said. “We’re blessed to do this work, for sure.”
Critics, however, see the sites as moral failures that essentially sanction people harming themselves, and as creating hubs of drug use. There has also been pushback and protests from the community.
The Greater Harlem Coalition wants the facility shut down, saying in a statement, “Currently, the safe injection site is a magnet that attracts drug dealers and users from outside the district to come into Harlem.”
The centers opened with the backing of former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Current Mayor Eric ams also supports the facilities, and tweeted, “Overdose Prevention Centers have proven to be a safe and effective way to combat the opioid crisis.”
Meanwhile, money has become an issue for the centers: It costs close to $2 million annually to operate them. New York state legislators didn’t support a bill over the summer that would’ve provided funding. So, the centers rely on private funding and philanthropy.