New York City opened two supervised injection sites in Manhattan on Tuesday to provide illicit drug users and addicts with a so-called safe and controlled environment for substance abuse, making these the first government-sanctioned spaces for such a purpose in the United States.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been pushing for opening such centers since 2018, and has succeeded with the twin injection sites in East Harlem and Washington Heights just weeks before his term comes to an end.
De Blasio has informed the sites that law enforcement will not take action against the premises. In 2018, the plan for the facilities was rejected by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump.
“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 just as five drug users overdosed on the opening day in the East Harlem center. According to a center director, they have survived.
Meanwhile, one of the neighboring businesses to the Washington Heights center saw an ambulance taking someone from the premises, according to the New York Post. “I think what they’re doing is they’re promoting this which is awful,” said the unnamed business owner to the media outlet.
Besides provisioning space for drug users, the centers provide addicts with rehabilitation and treatment facilities while preventing overdose deaths, according to proponents of the initiative.
There have been 1,497 confirmed overdose deaths in New York City in 2019. In 2020, the number rose to 2,062, and during the first three months of this year, 596 people have died from drug addiction, according to data (pdf) from the city’s health department. This is the greatest quarterly increase ever seen since numbers began to be collected in 2000.
A person dies of a drug overdose every four hours in New York City, which is more than the combined total of suicides, homicides, and vehicle accidents. More than four in five deaths have involved opioids, among which, Fentanyl has been found to be the most lethal.
Commissioner Dave Chokshi said on Twitter that the authorized injection centers can save up to 130 lives per year, based on a study by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.