In Case You MIssed It: Mayor Bill de Blasio Embraces Safer Consumption Spaces for NYC to Reduce Overdose Deaths

NYC Mayor DeBlasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio, in endorsing a plan to open safe injection sites in New York, said the program would “save lives and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need.” Credit: Holly Pickett for The New York Times
NEW YORK—(ENEWSPF)—May 4, 2018
By: Tony Newman

Ne York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday that he is moving forward with safer consumption spaces as a strategy to combat the overdose crisis.

The move follows years of advocacy by community-based groups, people who are directly affected, faith leaders, medical professionals, treatment providers, housing service providers, and City Council members who have called for New York City to implement safer consumption spaces as a proven public health intervention to save lives.

Huge thanks and appreciation to VOCAL-NY, Peer Network of New York, Harm Reduction Coalition, Housing Works, St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, Washington Heights Corner Project, BOOM!Health, GMHC, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, SIFNYC, End Overdose NY, the Drug Policy Alliance, and everyone who made this happen.

The story is making news around the state, country and world.

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Kassandra Frederique, New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance:  

“Mayor de Blasio’s embrace of safer consumption spaces is a critical step forward in preventing overdose deaths in New York City. We know that safer consumption spaces are an evidence-based solution that can help dramatically in saving lives, reducing criminalization, and improving public health,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “New York can and must be a leader now in saving lives by opening safer consumption spaces swiftly.”

New York Times

De Blasio Moves to Bring Safe Injection Sites to New York City, By: WILLIAM NEUMAN, MAY 3, 2018

Mayor Bill de Blasio is championing a plan that would make New York City a pioneer in creating supervised injection sites for illegal drug users, part of a novel but contentious strategy to combat the epidemic of fatal overdoses caused by the use of heroin and other opioids.

Safe injection sites have been considered successful in cities in Canada and Europe, but do not yet exist in the United States. Leaders in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Seattle have declared their intention to create supervised sites, although none have yet done so because of daunting obstacles to such an endeavor. Among them: The sites would seem to violate federal law.

The endorsement of the strategy by New York, the largest city in the country, may give the movement behind it special impetus.

For the sites to open, New York City must still clear some significant hurdles. At minimum, the plan calls for the support of several district attorneys, and, more critically, the State Health Department, which answers to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Although Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio are Democrats, they have engaged in a yearslong feud that has seen few examples of cooperation. Mr. Cuomo, who is facing an energetic primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon, has not said whether he supports injection sites, although state health officials have been open to the possibility.

The plan calls for four sites to open after a 6-to-12-month period of outreach to the communities where they will be located. They would operate as pilot programs for a year.

At the sites, which would be called Overdose Prevention Centers, trained staff would be available to administer medications, such as naloxone, to counteract drug overdoses. Social workers would also be on hand to possibly counsel drug users in the hope that they could be steered into programs intended to help them with their addiction.

The sites would be financed and run by nonprofit groups authorized by the city, and may be located within social service providers that already operate needle exchange sites.

“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,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement.

Mr. de Blasio has faced pressure from activist groups who support safe injection sites, and who have staged demonstrations at City Hall that have included civil disobedience, with numerous protesters, including City Council members, arrested.

But even as the mayor unveiled his plan, he seemed to be doing so at arm’s length. On Thursday morning, he held a news conference on the sunny Brooklyn waterfront to discuss ferry service, with no mention of the injection sites.

A public announcement of the injection site plan was not expected until Thursday evening at the earliest. City Hall officials refused to make Mr. de Blasio available for an interview.

The plan is based on a report commissioned in 2016 by the City Council and pushed by the Council speaker, Corey Johnson, when he was chairman of the health committee. The report was completed months ago but its release was delayed by City Hall as the mayor weighed his decision.

Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio sent a letter on Thursday to Howard A. Zucker, the state health commissioner, asking him to authorize or license four injection sites. The letter said that Dr. Zucker had the authority to permit such sites if they were part of a “research study.”

“You are authorized to license research studies that may include the possession of controlled substances,” the letter said. It cited as a precedent the authorization by the state health commissioner of needle exchanges in the early 1990s. Those exchanges began as an effort to halt the spread of H.I.V. among drug users who shared needles.

Dr. Palacio said in an interview that she has not previously discussed safe injection sites with Dr. Zucker.

The most serious obstacle to the safe injection sites may be the federal government. A section of federal law known as the crack house statute makes it illegal to own, rent or operate a location for the purpose of unlawfully using a controlled substance.

The enforcement of the statute in the case of safe injection sites, however, would be up to the discretion of federal authorities. Advocates for the sites point out that needle exchanges were considered illegal when they began, and they are now commonplace.

“We don’t believe a president who has routinely voiced concern about the national opioid epidemic will use finite federal law enforcement resources to prevent New York City from saving lives,” Eric F. Phillips, the mayor’s press secretary, said in a written statement.

The mayor’s office said that the nonprofit groups that have agreed to operate the centers were Housing Works, VOCAL-NY, Washington Heights Street Corner Project and St Anne’s Corner of Harm Reduction. The centers would be located in Washington Heights and Midtown West in Manhattan; the Longwood section of the Bronx; and Gowanus, Brooklyn.

There were 1,068 drug overdose deaths in New York City in the first nine months of last year, which officials said was more than the combined total of murders, suicides and vehicle crashes. Brooklyn, the most populous borough, had the greatest number of overdose deaths with 260. The Bronx, with a much smaller population, was second with 250.

The Bronx and Staten Island have the highest rate of overdose deaths. In 2016, the Bronx saw 32 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, and Staten Island had 30 deaths per 100,000.

San Francisco may be on track to be the first American city to open a safe injection site. Rachael Kagan, a spokesman for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said that officials expected to open two centers in the late summer or the fall — although officials there had previously said they hoped to open them by July. She said officials were “addressing the legal and siting issues.” San Francisco’s program would place the injection centers in existing social service facilities.

Philadelphia announced in January that it expected to open at least one site within 18 months.

Wall Street Journal

New York City Mayor Supports Supervised Drug-Use Facilities

One-year pilot program, if approved by state and city officials, would focus on four neighborhoods, By: Kate King, May 3, 2018

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is backing the use of facilities where users can inject drugs under medical supervision, saying they are necessary to prevent overdose deaths and encourage addiction treatment.

Overdose fatalities in New York City have more than doubled since 2000, with a record-high 1,441 people dying last year, according to a city report released Thursday. Proponents say safe-injection facilities will save lives and prevent the spread of disease, while critics say the sites would condone illegal activity and enable addiction.

On Thursday, Mr. de Blasio said he would support a one-year pilot program in four city neighborhoods: Gowanus in Brooklyn and Longwood in the Bronx and Midtown West and Washington Heights, both in Manhattan.

“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,” the mayor said in a statement.

City officials sent a letter to the state Department of Health on Thursday seeking authorization for the pilot program. Approval also is needed from the local district attorney’s office and from city council members whose districts would include the injection sites, the mayor’s office said.

There aren’t currently any safe-injection facilities in the U.S., although they are being considered in several cities, including Philadelphia, according to the city’s report. One hundred such centers operate world-wide, including several in Canada, the report said.

Kassandra Frederique, New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group, said injection centers save lives, reduce crime and improve public health.

“New York can and must be a leader now in saving lives by opening safer consumption spaces swiftly,” Ms. Frederique said in a statement.

The annual cost for operating a supervised injection facility would depend on its services and hours, ranging from as low as $250,000 to as high as $2 million to $3 million, the city’s report said. Putting facilities in four of the city’s neighborhoods that have been hardest-hit by overdose deaths could prevent up to 130 fatalities a year and save the city’s health-care system up to $7 million in annual costs, the report said.

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson praised the proposed pilot program as “ a brave, important and necessary step.”

“These sites will save lives and connect addicts with treatment options and trained professionals that could lead them to recovery,” he said in a statement.

Associated Press

NYC mayor backs plan to open supervised injection sites, May 3, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) — New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday threw his support behind a plan to open supervised injection sites for illegal drug users as part of a pioneering yet controversial effort to combat fatal overdoses.

Dozens of supervised injection sites have opened in Canada, Europe and elsewhere in the past decade, but there are currently none in the U.S., although officials in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Seattle have made moves to open them. The facilities are designed to provide a safe place, away from public areas, where drug users can inject heroin under the watchful eye of medical professionals.

“The opioid epidemic has killed more people in our city than car crashes and homicides combined,” said de Blasio, whose endorsement of the plan comes on the same day the city’s Health Department released a long-awaited study that claimed the program could prevent 130 overdose deaths each year.

Preliminary data shows there were 1,441 overdose deaths in New York City in 2017.

If the plan is approved, Overdose Prevention Centers under a one-year pilot program would open at current needle exchanges in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood, Manhattan’s Midtown West and Washington Heights, and Longwood in the Bronx. Trained staff would be available to administer naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug, and addiction guidance counseling.

“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, a Democrat, said in a statement.

City officials say the proposed plan would need approval from the state Department of Health, council members representing the sites and an agreement from district attorneys to shield clients and operators from prosecution.

Kassandra Frederique, the New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance, called it a critical step forward in preventing overdose deaths.

“We know that safer consumption spaces are an evidence-based solution that can help dramatically in saving lives, reducing criminalization, and improving public health,” said Frederique.

Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, attacked the injection facilities plan.

“It’s total insanity,” he said. “Drugs are illegal. So we are now telling people it’s OK to break the law.”

WABC TV

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio backs plan to open supervised injection sites, By: Josh Einiger, May 03, 2018

VIDEO: http://abc7ny.com/health/nyc-mayor-backs-plan-to-open-overdose-prevention-centers/3426569/

New York City could become the first in the nation to have supervised drug injection sites known as Overdose Prevention Centers.

On Thursday, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a year-long pioneering yet controversial pilot program at current needle-exchange facilities in Midtown West and Washington Heights in Manhattan, the Gowanus section of Brooklyn and Longwood in the Bronx.

The mayor’s endorsement comes as the city’s Health Department released a study on the program, saying it could prevent 130 overdose deaths each year.

Someone dies of a drug overdose in New York City every seven hours. Per year, that’s more deaths than from car crashes, suicides and homicides combined.

For years, Kassandra Frederique from the Drug Policy Alliance has been pushing the concept of what the city is now calling Overdose Prevention Centers.

A similar program in Vancouver provides a safe, sterile facility where anonymous addicts can take their drugs under the watchful eyes of medical professionals who are there to help in case of an overdose. They also provide counseling to beat addiction — all with no fear of arrest.

“The tools we have available right now are not enough to deal with this overdose crisis,” Frederique said.

Not everyone is on board with the idea of essentially legalizing drug use in their neighborhood.

“It just sort of creates this realm and this environment for the neighborhood that there’s this drug center,” a concerned resident in Washington Heights said.

Before the pilot can even begin, the governor needs to sign off and the city is promising to set ground rules in conjunction with members of each community affected.

Source: www.drugpolicy.org