NEW YORK (PIX11) — It was another record-breaking year in the United States for overdose deaths.
The latest provisional data from the CDC shows more than 100,000 people died in one year ending in October 2021 – more than 5,000 of them in New York state.
At City Hall on Thursday, advocacy groups pushed for new legislation that they say is evidence-based claiming these deaths are preventable. Among them was Jawanza Williams, the director of organizing at Vocal-NY, calling on the state legislature to pass the Safe Consumption Spaces Act to bring more safe injection sites to New York.
“Essentially, medical spaces where people can bring pre-obtained substances to use under the guidance and supervision of medical staff and also have access to a range of treatment services to prevent preventable overdose deaths in New York state,” Williams said.
Two of these sites already exist in New York City – the first in the nation. The bill would bring more across the state.
The advocates say OPCs – or overdose prevention centers – are not shooting galleries.
City Council member Tiffany Caban represents the 22nd district and is a supporter of the bills.
“You can walk into an OPC and get connected to care providers, get connected to all kinds of services in a really welcoming loving dignifying environment,” Caban said.
Shante Owens is a former drug user who says he’s been clean for ten years. A harm reduction center that provided him with clean syringes and treatment resources, he says, is what got him sober.
“Before there was a harm reduction syringe exchange program, I found my syringes on the streets of New York City,” Owens said. “That’s where I ended up getting HIV.”
The group is also calling on legislators to decriminalize buprenorphine and methadone, synthetic opioid medication used to treat opioid addiction.
“It’s sometimes difficult to access and then when people do have access to it, sometimes it could be criminalized, so we’re trying to make sure that people that are sharing medicines that keep people alive are not put in jail for that,” Williams added.
The bills have been introduced and the advocates say they need more co-sponsors for support to make it law.