New York City's new safe drug consumption sites haven't even been open for one month, but they have already saved dozens of lives, city health officials report.
At the end of November, NYC opened the country's first publicly recognized overdose prevention centers (OPCs), sites where people can safely use illegal drugs in a medically supervised setting. According to the city Health Department, these sites have been visited more than 2,000 times since opening, and OPC medical staff have already averted 59 life-threatening drug overdoses.
“These data are promising and show how Overdose Prevention Centers will reduce needless suffering and avoidable death,” said NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi in a statement. “The simple truth is that Overdose Prevention Centers save lives – the lives of our neighbors, family and loved ones. Thank you to OnPoint NYC for launching this vital new service to keep New Yorkers healthy.”
The city’s first two OPCs are located in facilities that formerly hosted safe needle exchange programs. The two city-funded non-profits that ran these centers, New York Harm Reduction Educators and Washington Heights Corner Project, merged to become OnPoint NYC. These centers continue to offer clean needles to intravenous drug users, but now also provide lab testing services that can identify impurities or contaminants in illicit drugs.
The sites’ health care workers are trained to administer naloxone and medical assistance to anyone who overdoses. These centers also help drug users connect with harm reduction, medical care, therapy or drug treatment programs, and social support services. Testing for hepatitis C and HIV, which can be spread by used needles, is also available.
Also this week, the New York City Board of Health unanimously approved a resolution supporting the creation of new safe drug consumption sites. The resolution specifically urges federal and state officials to authorize additional OPCs “and continue to expand funding and support for harm reduction services and medications for opioid use disorder treatment.”
The need for a new approach to combating the opioid crisis has never been more critical. Between May 2020 and April 2021, more than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, a 30 percent increase over the previous year. Overdoses claimed the lives of more than 2,000 NYC residents last year, and according to the state, Black New Yorkers had the highest rates of overdose deaths of any demographic. In the first quarter of 2021, there were nearly 600 overdose deaths in NYC, the largest number seen in a single quarter since 2000.
“In celebrating life, we are humanizing people often not treated as human,” said Sam Rivera, Executive Director of OnPoint NYC in a statement. “The trauma people are working through is so deep - it takes time to heal through the pain. It's a very long process for many people. The early data demonstrates the OPC's are reaching exactly who they're meant for, and they're already working. We are courageous enough to work with people who use drugs at their most vulnerable state while they are actively using drugs, with the belief and proof that they can come out of that when they are ready.”