New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) recently announced plans to open four supervised injection sites where illegal drug users can get their fix with no fear of arrest while medical professionals stand by to prevent fatal overdoses.
The proposed Overdose Prevention Centers would be safe consumption spaces where addicts can self-administer pre-obtained narcotics, such as heroin, OxyContin, and other opioids. Trained healthcare staffers would not directly assist with injections, but would provide sterile injection supplies, advise users on safer injection practices, monitor their reactions to the drugs, and administer medications that could counteract overdoses. The centers would also provide access to a range of social services, such as connecting drug abusers with programs that might help them get clean.
“The opioid epidemic has killed more people in our city than car crashes and homicides combined,” de Blasio said in a statement released Thursday. “After a rigorous review of similar efforts across the world, and after careful consideration of public health and safety experts, we believe overdose prevention centers will save lives and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction.”
Preliminary data indicates that there have been more than 2,800 overdose deaths in New York City over the past two years. Health officials claim the injection sites would reduce those fatalities, lower the risk of infectious disease transmission, and decrease public drug use.
“We lose people in their homes, in their basements, in the bathroom of a McDonalds or a Starbucks alone with no help,” de Blasio told WNYC Radio. “That can’t go on. Overdose prevention centers give us a chance to actually change that.”
The plan calls for the city to establish two injection sites in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, and another in the Bronx. All four proposed locations are existing "needle exchange centers," where drug users can trade used syringe needles for clean ones. Authorized nonprofit groups would finance and operate the sites, but those organizations have not yet been publicly identified.
Several district attorneys must support de Blasio’s proposition to protect those operating the centers from prosecution, thus creating an inviting atmosphere for the law-breaking clientele. The city also needs approval from the State Department of Health, which answers to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) who is up for re-election later this year. Cuomo said on Friday that the authorization request would be closely reviewed. If approved, the city would begin a period of outreach to the neighborhoods slated to house the injection facilities before commencing a one-year pilot program.
However, de Blasio might face intervention from federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
“Supervised injection facilities, or so-called safe injection sites, violate federal law,” DEA spokesperson Katherine Pfaff told BuzzFeed News in February. “Any facilitation of illicit drug use is considered in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and, therefore, subject to legal action.”
Opponents contend the injection sites will promote illegal drug use, while U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) called the proposal “liberal insanity” which “sets us back further.” Some residents have expressed apprehension over luring drug addicts to their communities to partake in the unlawful activity.
“For cops, the idea of knowingly allowing drug use to occur is a difficult thing to accept,” said Lt. John Grimpel, a spokesman for the New York Police Department (NYPD). “But the mission of NYPD is to keep people from dying, whether it is from violent crimes, vehicle collisions, or drug overdoses. As these overdose prevention centers become a reality, we will ensure that those facilities – and the neighborhoods around them – are safe and free of drug dealing, and that quality of life is preserved.”
The effort to create consumption sites in New York began in 2015 at a town hall hosted by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF). A coalition of public health and criminal justice reform groups formed Safe Injection Facilities NYC (SIF NYC) “for the health, safety, and dignity of people who inject drugs.” The drive has largely been led by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which was awarded a ten-year, $50 million grant from OSF in 2012 “to advance drug policy reform.” Mr. Soros sits on DPA’s board of directors. A spokeswoman from the organization told The Daily Wire that it has no plans to fund or run any of the proposed injection sites.
Currently, no such facilities are operating in the United States, although officials in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle have been working toward implementing policies similar to Mayor de Blasio’s proposal. Globally, approximately 100 injection sites are operational in nine countries: Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark, Australia and Canada.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.