The first supervised consumption sites for illegal drugs are now open in New York City, in a bid to reduce deaths from overdosing.
Also known as overdose prevention center (OPC) services, the sites will provide safe spaces for people who use drugs to receive clean needles and medical care as well as to be connected to social services.
The city has explained that the services, located in the neighbourhoods of East Harlem and Washington Heights, will also offer treatment for addiction, coming as an extension of existing services that will be co-located with previously established syringe service providers.
The decision to authorise the sites comes amid a dramatic increase in overdose deaths, according to NBC New York, with more than 2,000 cases reported in New York City last year alone, the highest number since reporting began in 2000.
A further 596 deaths occurred in New York City during the first quarter of this year, marking the greatest number of overdose deaths in a single quarter since reporting began.
Commenting on the services, de Blasio said: ‘New York City has led the nation’s battle against COVID-19, and the fight to keep our community safe doesn’t stop there. After exhaustive study, we know the right path forward to protect the most vulnerable people in our city. And we will not hesitate to take it.’
He continued: ‘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.’
Melanie Hartzog, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, said OPC services can ‘turn the tide in the fight against the opioid crisis’, adding: ‘New York City is ready to lead the way. We have lost too much to rely on the same playbook. It’s time to take bold action to help our most vulnerable neighbors and the communities they call home.’
A feasibility study conducted by the Health Department found OPCs in New York City would save up to 130 lives a year, as well as benefitting surrounding communities through a reduction in public drug use and syringe litter.
Though other cities in the US, such as Philadelphia, have taken steps towards supervised injection, New York City is the first to open officially authorised injection sites.
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