New York Mayor Endorses Safe Injection Sites to Curb Fatal Overdoses

By Alfonso Serrano May 04, 2018

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday (May 3) endorsed the opening of four supervised injection sites in New York City in an effort to stem the tide of fatal overdoses, which claimed 1,441 lives last year.

Mayor de Blasio backed the injection sites after an unreleased study by Weill Cornell Medical College concluded that four injection sites located throughout the city would prevent 130 overdose deaths per year, while saving New York City an estimated $7 million in health care costs.

"After a rigorous review of similar efforts across the world, and after careful consideration of public health and safety expert views, we believe overdose prevention centers will save lives and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction," de Blasio said in a tweeted statement.

Black and Latinx community leaders, in addition to medical professionals and drug policy reformers, celebrated the announcement as a victory for communities of color that have experienced a disproportionate level of criminalization in the ongoing war on drugs.

"We know that safer consumption spaces are an evidence-based solution that can help dramatically in saving lives, reducing criminalization and improving public health," Kassandra Frederique, New York state director at reform-minded organization Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. "New York can and must be a leader now in saving lives by opening safer consumption spaces swiftly."

In New York City, someone dies of a drug overdose every seven hours. Last year’s 1,441 deaths represented the highest death toll on record—with overdose deaths surpassing the amount of fatalities attributed to suicide, homicide and motor vehicle accidents combined, according to the New York City Department of Health

The four proposed sites would operate as pilot programs during the first year. Besides offering a safe, supervised space for people to inject drugs, the centers would offer drug users a range of counseling and health services.

But the injection sites are by no means a done deal. On Thursday, de Blasio sent a letter to state officials announcing his intention to open the centers. The plan must be backed by the State Department of Health, which is controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo. At press time, Cuomo has not publically stated if he supports the plan. If Albany approves the sites, they would open after a 6 to 12 month period. But even with state support, the sites would violate federal laws, which prohibit the use of narcotics and premises that sustain narcotics use.

For decades, safe injection sites in Europe have reduced deaths and the spread of infectious deseases. In light of that success, and spurred by the unprecedented opioid crisis in the United States, several cities have recently announced plans to open injection sites. In February, the San Francisco Health Commission announced plans to open two sites by July. And Philadelphia officials announced in January the city will establish a medical supervised facility. 

The announcement comes after years of pressure from Black and Latinx community leaders, medical health professionals and former City Council members.

"If we want to save lives, reduce criminalization and end racial disparities, we need comprehensive, innovative and forward-thinking approaches like safer consumption spaces," Frederique said last week during a City Hall rally demanding de Blasio support safe consumption spaces.