New York City is opening two supervised injection sites in East Harlem and Washington Heights, predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in the country's biggest city, according to The New York Times.
The two Manhattan sites are already operating as needle-exchange programs, and now trained staff will offer clean needles, administer naloxone to reverse overdoses, and provide users with options for addiction treatment, city health officials said. Users will bring their own drugs.
"2020, unfortunately, was the deadliest year on record for overdoses both here in New York City as well as nationally," Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, the city's health commissioner, said to the Times. "Every four hours, someone dies of a drug overdose in New York City," he said. "We feel a deep conviction and also sense of urgency in opening overdose prevention centers."
New York City's soon-to-depart Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement that the decision to open the sites, which he has long championed, will show other cities that "after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible."
"We have always been trying to strike the right balance between enforcement, rehabilitation and prevention," Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said. "I would rather have people who are going to shoot up do it in a safe and secure venue as opposed to a McDonald’s bathroom, an alleyway, or a subway staircase."
East Harlem has a heavy concentration of methadone clinics and other drug treatment centers. More than 2,000 people died of a drug overdose in New York City in 2020, the highest total since the city began keeping track of overdose deaths in 2000, the Times reported.
Nationally, the statistics are also stark. Provisional data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicate that there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before.
A federal law known as the crack house statute makes it a felony to knowingly open, lease, rent, use, or maintain any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance.
Dr. Chokshi said New York City has had "productive conversations" with federal and state health officials, and he believes that the facilities will be allowed to operate because of a "shared sense of urgency" about addressing the overdose crisis, The Times reported.
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