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After years of pressure from advocates around the city, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to open overdose prevention centers.
The mayor announced the decision to move forward with safe consumption facilities to help combat the overdose crisis, particularly when it comes to opioids and heroin. De Blasio is calling for a yearlong pilot program with facilities in the Longwood section of the Bronx, the Gowanus section of Brooklyn and the Midtown West and Washington Heights neighborhoods in Manhattan.
Activists, who pressed City Hall all of this year, welcomed the news.
“Housing Works is thrilled that Mayor de Blasio has stepped up to do the right thing, and given the skyrocketing rates of overdose in New York City, we only wish this administration’s support for an intervention that we have long-known to save lives had come sooner,” said Housing Works President and CEO Charles King, in a statement. “One thing we have learned from years of fighting the AIDS epidemic is that harm reduction works. People who use drugs are much more likely to find their way to treatment, recovery and wholeness when they have safe access to services that meet them wherever they are without judgment.”
“Mayor de Blasio’s embrace of safer consumption spaces is a critical step forward in preventing overdose deaths in New York City,” added Kassandra Frederique, New York State director at the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “We know that safer consumption spaces are an evidence-based solution that can help dramatically in saving lives, reducing criminalization and improving public health.”
Two years ago, when overdose-related deaths in New York City were more than the combined total of suicides, car accidents and homicides combined, Health Committee Chair (and current Council Speaker) Corey Johnson devoted $100,000 in the city’s health department’s budget to pay for a feasibility report on safe consumption spaces. Advocates were still awaiting the results of the report when they took to City Hall last month to protest.
Now, Johnson praises the mayor for his courage in dealing with the issue.
“The Council has been a leader in the push to bring these centers to New York City, and we thank Mayor de Blasio for taking this brave, important and necessary step,” said Johnson in a statement. “Too many people have died from opioids and heroin. These sites will save lives and connect addicts with treatment options and trained professionals that could lead them to recovery.”
Over the past two months, prominent figures such as former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins have come out in support of safe consumption facilities. As recently as May 2, advocates took to City Hall to once again call on the mayor to release the feasibility report.
“More people are dying of overdose in New York City than ever before and there’s no sign of stopping anytime in the near future,” said VOCAL-NY Co-Executive Director Alyssa Aguilera in a statement. “Safer consumption spaces will save lives. They are a proven public health intervention that prevent overdose deaths and connect people to the care and services they want. The reality is that people use drugs and forcing individuals to inject in public bathrooms and parks is unsafe and inhumane. We are pleased that New York City is finally moving forward on this lifesaving effort.”
Officials say there has never been a death reported in any of these facilities, but New York City hit a record for the number of overdose deaths in 2017 (1,441), with heroin and fentanyl leading the way. New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said that New Yorkers dealing with drug issues need all the help from the city that they can get.
“The rise in opioid use and abuse is a national epidemic that is, unfortunately, affecting our neighborhoods,” stated Rodriguez. “The people that would be seeking services at Overdose Prevention Centers need our help and support.”