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Wednesday 7 December 2022
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These New Yorkers Are Pushing Hard for Safe Heroin Injection Sites

In the wake of America’s growing opioid crisis, people are looking for answers that don’t involve handcuffs. Although supervised consumption sites are not currently legal in the U.S. and may seem to some as if they condone drug use, advocates say that bringing these centers to New York State could hold the key to overdose prevention.

The “End Overdose NY” coalition, an advocacy group comprised of public health professionals, those struggling with opioid dependency, and family members impacted by addiction, rallied in support of their new bill in Albany last month. This piece of legislation, which is being sponsored by Manhattan Assembly member Linda Rosenthal and Buffalo Assembly member Crystal Peoples-Stokes and is currently being pushed in the State Assembly, would authorize safe injection sites wherein New Yorkers could safely use intravenous drugs under supervision.

Of the 20.5 million Americans over the age of 12 who had a substance use disorder in 2015, approximately 591,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin. That same year, there were approximately 1,520 opioid-related deaths statewide (excluding New York City), and fatalities have continued to rise since then. From 2010 to 2015, New York State experienced a 71% increase in in opioid-related fatalities; in Buffalo’s Erie County alone, approximately seven people die from opioid overdoses or related complications every week.

Advocates and public health professionals say that safe consumption spaces can prevent overdose fatalities by having trained personnel to intervene and Narcan (the brand name version of naloxone, the opiate antidote) on-hand. These facilities would also have sterile needles in supply to prevent the spread of disease and literature pertaining to drug addiction and sobriety.

Approximately 16% of motor vehicle crashes involve drugs other than alcohol, and opponents and skeptics are concerned that allowing safe consumption sites would send the message that using drugs is permissible. This could present a risk both to the user and to anyone with whom they come into contact.

But as Liz Evans, creator of Canada’s Washington Heights Corner Project — the first legally sanctioned consumption site in North America — pointed out to a local ABC affiliate station:

“No one has ever died of an overdose in a safe injection site.” Evans continued, “They are not one size fits all. They make sense as a continuum of services that need to happen, and they do save lives and are an entry point to care for people we were just not reaching.”

Kenneth Leonard, Director of the Research Institute on Addictions at the University of Buffalo, echoed this sentiment to Buffalo’s local NBC affiliate station saying of the proposed sites, “You [would] actually have the medical community in contact with the user community, and that opens up opportunities with moving them into treatment. A number of the places that have been open for a while do see people moving from going to inject… to moving into treatment.”

Currently, safe drug consumption sites exist in more than 100 countries. In addition to the bill that’s moving forward in the New York State Assembly, pushes for such facilities are happening in San Francisco, New York City, and Seattle. Another consumption site is currently being developed in Ithaca. According to the Huffington Post, studies have found that a substantial number of those struggling with drug dependency who visit safe injection sites end up in treatment and that these facilities can help reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. Considering that the United State’s overdose rate currently hovers far above that of any other country, advocates and those directly impacted by addiction are hopeful that measures such as these could provide a solution — albeit an unconventional one.