Nov 30, 2021 - Health

New York City to open first supervised injection sites in U.S.

People advocating for new drug policies, such as safe injection sites, to prevent overdoses in New York City in November 2018.
People advocate for new drug policies, such as safe injection sites, to prevent overdoses in New York City in 2018. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York City will authorize two supervised injection sites to begin operating as soon as Tuesday as part of an effort to prevent drug overdose deaths, which are at record levels in the city and across the U.S., Mayor Bill de Blasio announced.

Why it matters: New York is now the first U.S. city to start operating overdose prevention centers, trained staff at which will provide clean needles, reverse overdoses with naloxone and help people find addiction treatment services, according to the New York Times.

  • The sites, which already operate as needle exchange centers, will be located in East Harlem and Washington Heights, according to the Times.

What they're saying: "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," de Blasio 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," he added.
  • The city's health department released a study in 2018 which estimated that establishing four supervised consumption centers would save up to 130 lives a year while reducing public drug use and syringe litter.

By the numbers: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data earlier this month which showed that an estimated 100,306 people in the U.S. died from a drug overdose in a 12-month period ending April 2021.

  • It was the first time that drug overdose deaths passed six figures in a 12-month period since the CDC started tracking such fatalities. It also signaled that the country is on pace to set another tragic milestone after reporting a record 93,331 drug deaths in 2020.
  • New York City alone reported over 2,000 drug overdose deaths last year, the highest number since the city started reporting such deaths in 2000, according to de Blasio's office.
  • Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, was present in 77% of those deaths.
  • Provisional data shows that 596 overdose deaths occurred in the city between January and March of this year, which was the highest number for a single quarter since reporting began.

The big picture: The city earlier this year announced other initiatives to prevent overdose deaths, such as an awareness campaign against the increased risk of overdose associated with fentanyl, distributing fentanyl test strips and needle exchange programs.

  • Other cities in the U.S., such Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco, have also attempted to open safe injection sites, according to the Times.

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