New York Becomes First U.S. City to Open Supervised Injection Sites for Drug Users

New York City will become the first U.S. city to open officially authorized injection sites in an effort to reduce drug overdose deaths. 

Two supervised injection sites will open in two Manhattan neighborhoods, East Harlem and Washington Heights, with operations expected to begin as soon as today, Nov. 30, according to The New York Times. The facilities — which are not operated by the city, but by two nonprofits that do receive city funding — will not distribute drugs, but will provide clean needles, administer naloxone to reverse overdoses, and provide information on addiction treatment services.

“After exhaustive study, we know the right path forward to protect the most vulnerable people in our city,” NYC mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “And we will not hesitate to take it. 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.” 

The approval of the two supervised injection centers comes after over 2,000 people in NYC died from drug overdoses in 2020, and the city’s overall overdose death rate rose from 21.9 per 100,000 residents in 2019 to 30.5 in 2020. Full data for 2021 isn’t available yet, but preliminary info suggests nearly 600 people died from overdoses in NYC during the first three months of this year. 

Supervised drug injection sites have been heralded as an effective alternative to criminalization, keeping people safe if they are using and steering them towards addiction services. While injection sites have popped up in Canada and Europe, efforts to open them in the U.S. have been slow-going, attracting fierce debates and legal challenges (for instance, the Department of Justice under Donald Trump sued to stop one such facility from opening in Philadelphia in 2019). 

But with overdose deaths rising nationally — more than 100,000 Americans died from them between April 2019 and April 2020 — support for supervised injection sites appears to be gaining traction, especially with Joe Biden’s administration embracing harm reduction strategies (that said, there’s still no official federal support for supervised injection sites). Along with the first-of-their-kind facilities opening in NYC, Rhode Island is prepping a pilot program for injection sites after legalizing them in July, while the California legislature is currently working on a bill to authorize them in major cities like San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles.

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