New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed a plan on Thursday that commits the city to opening four safe injection sites at needle exchange centers, providing drug users with a place to use intravenous drugs like heroin under the supervision of medical professionals. If the plan comes into fruition, New York will be the first city in the United States to host the sites.
According to the New York Times, the city intends to launch a one-year pilot program that would install supervised injection sites at exchange centers in Gowanus, Brooklyn; Midtown West and Washington Heights in Manhattan; and in the Longwood neighborhood of The Bronx. Staten Island—which alongside The Bronx saw the highest rate of opioid deaths in New York in 2016 but experienced a drop in fatalities in 2017—will not be part of the pilot program, as noted by the Staten Island Advance. A record 1,441 people in New York City died of opioid overdoses in 2017, according to a recent study.
Even with de Blasio’s approval, the program cannot officially launch without some cooperation from the state of New York and the State Health Department, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s track record when it comes to endorsing the city’s progressive reforms is...not great! Then again, Cuomo’s been slinging long-touted Democratic initiatives like delicious leftist candy of late, thanks to Cynthia Nixon’s effective gubernatorial primary challenge, so maybe this one’s got a shot?
In addition to Cuomo and the State Health Department, the city will need approval from district attorneys and council members in each impacted area. Officials hope to do to six to 12 months worth of community outreach regarding the injection sites before launching them.
About 100 safe injection sites exist worldwide, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. One such injection site, in Vancouver, reportedly decreased opioid fatalities in its immediate vicinity by 35 percent in under a decade, and 75 percent of surveyed visitors said visiting the site helped them change their injecting practices for the better.
Though cities like Philadelphia and Seattle have proposed installing their own safe injection sites, there are currently none in the United States. According to federal law, it is illegal to own, rent, or operate a venue to utilize illegal drugs, making it difficult for local municipalities to create even life-saving spaces for users, which should come as no surprise in a nation long determined to waste its resources criminalizing drug addicts rather than providing them with medical aid.