New York City Is Funding America’s First Official Safe Injection Site for Drug Users

New York City has given its approval to safe consumption facilities where users of intravenous drugs can inject freely without being arrested. These facilities will be the nation’s first to be funded by the public. 

The move was announced by Bill de Blasio, the outgoing mayor of the city and the Health Department. These consumption spots will be located in areas where nonprofit organizations already provide needle exchange services. As soon as possible, East Harlem’s and Washington Heights will open their doors for users. Users will receive clean needles while the staff can administer Naloxone (a medication that reverses opioid overdoses). The users will need to bring their illegal drugs.

New York City won’t be managing the consumption centres. The two non-profits that currently operate the needle injection programs will be collaborating to create OnPoint NYC. This organization will manage safe consumption locations. The city funds these nonprofits.

Since years, safe consumption sites have been in operation throughout Canada and Australia. New York City will become the first U.S. municipality to offer safe consumption services. San Francisco and Seattle are already planning. These cities all have witnessed an increase in the use of heroin and other injected drugs, along with high overdose rates. New York City had more than 21,000 drug-overdose deaths in 2020. The United States as a whole has also seen a record number of overdose deaths—more than 93,000 for 2020.

These numbers make safe consumption sites a crucial and necessary harm reduction measure. It is better to keep drug users alive than wage a failed and punitive war on drugs. American Medical Association is in favor of safe drinking sites. They noted that no overdose deaths have been reported from the 120 other safe consumption locations around the globe earlier this year. This is because the sites have health personnel who are trained to handle emergencies.

It is difficult for similar sites to be opened in the United States due to U.S. drug laws. It is a crime to allow space for drug consumption to exist, according to Section 856 in the federal Controlled Substances Act. The 1986 law was intended to ban “crack homes.” However, when Philadelphia granted Safehouse permission to open safe drinking sites in the city of Philadelphia in 2019, the U.S. attorney William McSwain of Philadelphia used federal law to block the opening of these facilities. The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Judge Gerald Austin McHugh, initially sided with Safehouse and stated that Section 856 didn’t prohibit city-approved medically monitored consumption venues. The U.S. Court of Appeals, 3rd Circuit reversed that decision and ruled that Safehouse’s site was not prohibited by federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case in October. Safehouse website hasn’t opened.

New York City has begun to fund safe injection sites. Eric Adams, the incoming mayor of New York City, is also publicly backing them. However there are still questions about what the federal government will do. The New York TimesReports indicate that the Biden administration supports harm reduction strategies to reduce drug deaths. However, they have not supported safe injection sites. According to Dave Chokshi, New York City’s Health Commissioner, the Times According to the mayor, the city had “productive discussions” with Biden’s administration. The federal government will not interfere.