NEW YORK — New York City opened its first supervised drug consumption sites, called Overdose Prevention Centers, on Tuesday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the facilities as the first publicly recognized services of its kind in the nation.
“New York City has led the nation’s battle against COVID-19, and the fight to keep our community safe doesn’t stop there. After exhaustive study, we know the right path forward to protect the most vulnerable people in our city. And we will not hesitate to take it,” the mayor said in a statement. “Overdose Prevention Centers are a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis. I’m proud to show cities in this country that after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible.”
According to the Department of Health, the Overdose Prevention Centers will provide a safe place for people to use drugs, including heroin and other narcotics, and receive medical treatment. They can also connect with addiction and social services.
The facilities are opening at a critical time in the fight against the opioid crisis.
New York City recorded 596 overdose deaths between January and March of 2021 — the highest quarterly total since reporting began in 2000, according to DOH. In 2020, more than 2,000 people died of a drug overdose in the five boroughs, which was the highest yearly total since reporting began.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated more than 90,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2020.
A feasibility study by the city Health Department found that Overdose Prevention Centers could save up to 130 lives per year. OPC services have never been connected to an overdose death, according to DOH.
Proponents say the facilities save lives by recognizing the reality of drug use and providing a place where users are watched for signs of overdose. Advocates also suggest OPCs benefit the communities they’re located in by reducing public drug use and syringe litter.
Opponents, however, see the sites as a moral failure that essentially sanctions people harming themselves and federal law bans operating a place for narcotics use.
New York Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, said she sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland about the city’s new facilities and urged the Biden administration to keep them from operating in defiance of federal law.
“Instead of focusing on the root cause of the drug epidemic, Mayor de Blasio is enabling drug cartels that continue to break our laws, smuggle illegal drugs over our border, and prey on our children,” the lawmaker said, in part, in a statement on Tuesday. “Opening taxpayer-funded heroin shooting galleries is not a proper solution. These centers not only encourage drug use but they will further deteriorate our quality of life.”
A few unofficial facilities have operated in the city for some time, allowing drug users a monitored place to partake.
The Overdose Prevention Centers will be co-located in areas of the city with previously established syringe service providers.
This story comprises reporting from The Associated Press.