Mayor Bill DeBlasio was present for the opening of the nation’s first “safe injection sites” in New York City on Tuesday. People are free to use any and all illegal substances within the designated centers, including heroin, crack-cocaine and methamphetamine, among several other drugs. Five people overdosed at just one of the clinics on opening day, according to the New York Post.
“Overdose Prevention Centers are a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis. I’m proud to show cities in this country that after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible,” de Blasio said in a statement. The city opened two “Overdose Prevention Centers” on Tuesday, New York Harm Reduction Educators on E. 126th Street in Harlem and Washington Heights’ CORNER Project on W. 180th Street. Both centers are nonprofits.
The centers opened as de Blasio has just four weeks remaining in his final term as mayor. Clean needles will be provided for users, but they will be required to bring their own drugs. The sites will also be equipped with medications that can reverse opioid overdoses, such as Naloxone. Users can shoot up under the supervision of medical personnel, who can administer aid if necessary.
While the centers were originally designed for users of intravenous drugs, the nod has since been given to those who smoke crack cocaine, a drug popularized by Hunter Biden. Businesses have complained about the large presence of drug users.
Smoking crack sanctioned at NYC ‘safe injection sites,’ driving business away https://t.co/QuFuVyQK81 pic.twitter.com/QqlQWA2tZN
— New York Post (@nypost) December 2, 2021
The two Manhattan locations were chosen based on “health need and depth of program experience,” according to the Health Department. 85 users injected various drugs at the East Harlem center on Tuesday, resulting in five overdoses after users injected drugs laced with fentanyl.
“We have had some overdoses today,” Kailin See, senior director of programs at New York Harm Reduction Educators, told the New York Post. 2,000 New Yorkers died of drug overdoses in 2020, the highest total since the city started tracking in 2000. Opioids account for a bulk of the city’s fatalities, a trend that is mirrored in most of the country’s big cities. A city Health Department study claims the sites could save as many as 130 lives a year.
Philadelphia had previously moved to establish such sites in 2018 and would have become the first city to have them. However, the Trump Administration sued the nonprofit connected with the move, a group called “Safehouse”, in 2019. A U.S. District Court judge initially ruled that Safehouse would not violate federal law, but this was appealed by then-U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain. A panel of Third Circuit Court of Appeals judges then overturned the decision, agreeing with McSwain’s assertion that the proposed sites would violate the “crack house statute” in the federal Controlled Substances Act. The statute is designed to outlaw any site where drug use is its primary function.
The push to get similar sites in Philadelphia is alive and well, however, as are drives for similar measures in numerous other cities. “NYC’s overdose prevention centers are a significant step forward in harm reduction, and we applaud all involved,” said Safehouse board vice president Ronda Goldfein. “In Philadelphia, we remain focused on legal federal authority for Safehouse and other communities that hope to offer overdose prevention.”
Seattle has signed off on plans to create similar sites, though they have yet to become operational. San Francisco, Austin and Portland are among other cities where injection sites have been discussed.