Medicine News

NYC opens heroin injection sites for drug addicts

New York City is now authorizing two supervised injection sites in Manhattan to curb the surge in overdose deaths caused by street drugs.

Trained staff at the sites in East Harlem and Washington Heights can provide clean needles, administer naloxone to reverse overdoses and provide users with options for addiction treatment if necessary. However, users will have to bring their own drugs.

The most populous city in the United States will become the first to officially authorize injection sites, which some opponents view as magnets for drug use.

There are also other cities that are taking steps toward supervised injections, but are yet to open their sites amid the legal and moral implications of sanctioning drug use.

The Manhattan sites are already operating as needle exchange programs, with some residents in the communities already raising concerns about the decision to place them in less affluent areas.

Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi said that the city is moving forward to address a public health crisis. He said: “The year 2020 was the deadliest year on record for overdoses both here in New York City as well as nationally. Every four hours, someone dies of a drug overdose in New York City. We feel a deep conviction and also sense of urgency in opening overdose prevention centers.”

Mayor, district attorneys championing injection sites

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has been championing safe injection sites since 2018, citing the effectivity of their use in European and Canadian cities.

The decision to officially allow the sites to open came during the mayor’s last few weeks in office as he considers running for governor. In a statement, he noted his decision to show other cities that after decades of failure, a smarter approach can be possible.


”It’s to save lives, stop people from overdosing, and of course in every way help them towards treatment and support,” de Blasio said.

The mayor also sent letters to the providers promising that they will not take enforcement action against the sites, saying that the city has secured the support of law enforcement agencies as well as four out of its five district attorneys.

Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said in an interview: “We have always been trying to strike the right balance between enforcement, rehabilitation and prevention. I would rather have people who are going to shoot up do it in a safe and secure venue as opposed to a McDonald’s bathroom, an alleyway or a subway staircase.”

The national numbers on overdose deaths rose to over 100,000 in the 12-month period that ended in April. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, this showed an increase of close to 30 percent from the 78,000 deaths during the same period the year prior.

More than 2,000 people died of drug overdose last year in New York City alone, the highest total since the city began keeping track of these deaths in 2000. In the first three months of 2021, there were close to 600 deaths based on preliminary data.

City not operating drug injection sites

The city will not be operating or staffing the drug injection sites, according to Chokshi. There will be two nonprofits that will run the needle exchange programs. The city will only provide the funding for their operations.

The Biden administration has been championing harm reduction methods but has yet to explicitly endorse supervised injection sites. Chokshi said the city has had “productive conversations” with federal and state health officials to allow the facilities to operate due to a “shared sense of urgency” in addressing the overdose crisis. (Related: FDA considers new, implantable treatment for heroin, painkiller addiction … Fighting drugs with drugs.)

Michael Botticelli, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama, said: “It’s hugely important, not just from a public health perspective but for other communities around the country that have been contemplating this to be able to point to New York City and say we are doing this in the United States.”

However, not everyone is sold on the idea. Eva Chan, a member of Community Board 11, has been bracing for the opening of an injection site.

“If every district in New York City has one site and it’s not right next to my home, I’m not against it. But the root cause of why people are shooting up here is that they’ve been using East Harlem as a dumping ground for a long time. So they don’t address the root cause,” she said.

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