Harm reduction strategies are gaining traction as a more effective way to quell the ever-growing opioid crisis. These strategies, like making clean needle exchanges available and decriminalizing drug possession, understand that criminalization alone will not reduce drug abuse, nor does it protect the lives of those using these drugs. Operating under the harm reduction principles, New York City is officially running the country’s first government-sanctioned supervised drug injection sites.
These sites are operated by medical professionals and organized by nonprofit OnPoint NYC. The sites will serve as a safe place for drug users to inject heroin and other drugs under the supervision of medical professionals. The sites will also offer and encourage clean needle exchanges, addiction treatment, and other healthcare.
Although controversial, extensive research and similar programs in Australia and Canada have demonstrated that promoting safer injection practices reduces drug overdoses, reduces the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, and creates safer communities. Additionally, these sites serve as a point of contact for addiction treatment outreach services.
The New York program was first proposed in 2018, and with support from Mayor Bill de Blasio, district attorneys, and the NYPD, organizers are confident that the program will operate without the interference of local municipal law enforcement. More than 2,000 people died from fatal overdoses in New York City in 2020, and a study from the NYC Health Department found that safe injection sites could save up to 130 lives a year in the city. Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle have proposed similar programs.
“After an exhaustive study, we know the right path forward to protect the most vulnerable people in our city,” DeBlasio said in a statement. “Overdose prevention centers are a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis.”