On Tuesday, November 30th of last year, New York City became the first city in the United States to legally allow supervised injection sites for people who use intravenous drugs.
This is a bold move by New York City and its Major Bill de Blasio. New York is our nation’s largest city and has long been home to many people struggling with substance use disorders. Other US cities, such as Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle, have made moves towards creating these safe sites for users, but were met with much opposition; New York City is the first city to follow through thus far.
Opponents of safe injection sites believe that facilities such as these promote and encourage drug use. They fear that they will cause an uptick in local crime and that many people who would not use otherwise will be drawn to these sites to try drugs.
On the other hand, though, supporters of supervised injection sites say that these sites are needed to provide those who are already struggling with addiction with a place to go to use that will not only be safe, but that can save their lives.
Although supervised injection sites are controversial, they are necessary and can help people. In just the two short weeks that New York’s sites have been open, nine overdoses have been reversed by site staff; that’s nine lives that have been saved.
To learn more about supervised injection sites in New York and beyond, read on.
Why Do We Need Supervised Injection Clinics?
According to New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, someone dies of a drug overdose in his city every four hours.
In 2020 alone, 2,062 people died from confirmed overdoses in New York’s five boroughs; that’s more than deaths from homicides, suicides, and motor vehicle crashes combined. In many cases, the root cause is fentanyl – it’s involved in over 75% of overdose deaths in the city.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been a supporter of this concept for years. In 2018, he began talking about supervised injection sites publicly; he was impressed by their success in other countries. President Biden, whose son, Hunter, struggled with addiction, has also expressed his support for various harm reduction policies, but he has not endorsed supervised injection sites specifically.
However, many other countries offer safe and supervised injection sites for their citizens. Today, users can visit them in Australia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Norway, and Canada. There are many reasons why the establishment of these clinics is wise.
First, people who use intravenous drugs often do so alone or in places where medical care cannot reach them quickly. As a result, if there’s an emergency, there is no way that they can be saved. In a supervised injection site environment, medical staff is on hand to help anyone in need. If someone overdoses there, they can be revived with naloxone.
Further, users who use at supervised injection clinics will be provided with new, sterilized needles for use. This will help to reduce the spread of bloodborne illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C throughout the community.
Also, finally, and perhaps most importantly, supervised injection clinics create a space where users can communicate with staff about seeking treatment so that they can break free from their addictions if they so desire. Information about options for addiction treatment will be available to visitors and they can speak with professionals about how they can take steps towards a life free of drugs and alcohol. As these two New York clinics exist in low-income neighborhoods, their staff will likely guide people in need to programs they can afford; people may access recovery services they didn’t think they could before.
How Does It Work?
As explained above, supervised injection sites offer a clean and safe space for people to use intravenous drugs. Users must bring their own drugs with them; they won’t be prosecuted by the police for possession on site. Medical staff will provide them with clean needles and will observe them after they use to make sure they are okay. Users will be required to stay on-site for an initial period until staff feels that they are safe to depart independently.
The two sites in New York City were already distributing clean needles to users, but they are excited to be able to provide this service to keep people safe in their neighborhoods. In the past, there were some for-profit, illicit supervised injection sites in the city, but they were shut down time and time again. These sites are thrilled to be able to operate publicly without fear of prosecution during this trial period and hopefully long beyond it.
These locations – New York Harm Reduction Educators in Harlem and Washington Heights Corner Project in Washington Heights – are already serving hundreds of people each week. Hopefully, if all goes well, there will be more sites in other parts of New York City. There are people suffering from addiction in all parts of the city, and these facilities will undoubtedly continue to save many lives moving forward.
Supervised Injection Sites Are the Future
It seems clear that supervised injection sites help people. Although it will certainly take quite some time before everyone everywhere is on board with this concept, sites will slowly begin to open up across our nation over the next decade. In time, it will become clear that these facilities help keep people safe and alive, and that they funnel people into treatment programs as well. As positive statistics emerge, it will become more difficult for opponents to make a case against them. Time will tell, but the future for supervised injection sites is bright.
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