New York will open safe injection sites as part of an effort to slash overdoses across the city.
The sites are meant to cut down on overdose deaths by providing safe places with trained staff on hand for when addicts shoot up. Mayor Bill de Blasio, after ordering a study on the issue, intends to test them out in four neighborhoods.
“The opioid epidemic has killed more people in our city than car crashes and homicides combined,” de Blasio said. “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.”
More than 1,400 people died from overdoses in the city in 2017 and officials have committed millions to combating the epidemic, but critics say safe injection sites prolong addiction.
No U.S. city has sanctioned safe injection sites. With de Blasio’s Thursday announcement, the city joins San Francisco, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Seattle.
The mayor did not give a timeline for when the sites might open. He intends to open them in Gowanus, Midtown West, Washington Heights and Longwood.
His plan faces some stumbling blocks as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has called the sites illegal.
Organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance have called for safer consumption spaces. DPA New York state Director Kassandra Frederique called New York’s move a “critical step forward” toward 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,” Frederique said. “New York can and must be a leader now in saving lives by opening safer consumption spaces swiftly.”
The NYPD expressed some reservation over the idea.
“For cops, the idea of knowingly allowing illegal drug use to occur is a difficult thing to accept. But the mission of the NYPD is to keep people from dying, whether it is from violent crimes, vehicle collisions, or drug overdoses,” a spokesperson said. “That is why we have already trained more than 30,000 NYPD officers and equipped 24,000 of them in the field with naloxone, which can reverse opioids’ effects. As these overdose prevention centers become a reality, we will ensure that those facilities – and the neighborhoods around them – are safe and free of drug dealing, and that quality of life is preserved.”