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First US overdose prevention centers open in New York City in an effort to combat overdose deaths


By Taylor Romine, CNN

New York City is now the first city in the nation to open two overdose prevention centers that will allow drug users to receive medical care and services to prevent drug overdose deaths, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office.

The overdose prevention centers (OPCs), also known as supervised consumption sites or safe injection sites, provide a safer place for drug users to administer drugs and get medical care if they overdose, the city said. The centers can also provide connections to treatment and social services to help in their recovery.

“After exhaustive study, we know the right path forward to protect the most vulnerable people in our city,” de Blasio said in a release. “And we will not hesitate to take it. 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.”

With two locations in upper Manhattan, the centers will exist as part of two previously established syringe service providers, the mayor’s office said.

The two organizations, Washington Heights Corner Project and New York Harm Reduction Educators, will be forming a new organization called, OnPoint NYC, to run the sites, the New York City Health Department confirmed.

The centers will be open for overdose prevention starting Tuesday, the health department said.

The move comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier in November that more than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States during a 12-month period ending April 2021. The provisional data shows that overdose deaths jumped 28.5% from the same period a year earlier and nearly doubled over the past five years, th CDC said.

New York City reported this month that during 2020, there were 2,062 overdose deaths compared with 1,497 in 2019, an increase of 565 deaths. Provisional data from the city shows that 596 overdose deaths were reported in the first quarter of 2021, which represents the greatest number of overdose deaths in a single quarter since reporting began in 2000, according to the mayor’s office release.

“The national overdose epidemic is a five-alarm fire in public health, and we have to tackle this crisis concurrently with our COVID fight,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi. “Giving people a safe, supportive space will save lives and bring people in from the streets, improving life for everyone involved. Overdose prevention centers are a key part of broader harm reduction.”

New York City will now be the first US city to have overdose prevention centers, but several cities and states have attempted for years to establish their own. Similar sites exist throughout Europe and Canada.

Rhode Island passed a law in July to support a two-year pilot program for harm reduction centers, another term for overdose prevention centers, according to a release from the state’s General Assembly. The program will take effect on March 1.

San Francisco and Philadelphia announced in 2018 that they intended to open their own safe injection sites, but their plans have been delayed.

Philadelphia’s plan was pushed back after a US Attorney’s Office in Pennsylvania sued the non-profit Safehouse that planned to open the site, saying it was illegal. Although a federal judge ruled against the challenge in 2020, Safehouse said that an appeals court ultimately ruled against them in January. According to the court’s opinion, Judge Stephanos Bibas said that “though the opioid crisis may call for innovative solutions, local innovations may not break federal law.”

CNN has reached out to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which has jurisdiction over Manhattan, asking if they plan to sue to stop the centers from opening.

In a National Institutes of Health report earlier this year, the organization said that while more rigorous research on overdose prevention sites needs to be done, that drug use supervision and overdose management have the potential to provide health benefits to those at-risk and bring “economic advantages to the larger community.”

“Given the amount and quality of the existing data, it may be prudent to consider the American Medical Association’s recommendation of developing and implementing OPC pilot programs in the United States designed, monitored, and evaluated to generate locality-relevant data to inform policymakers on the feasibility and effectiveness of OPCs in reducing harms and health care costs related to IDU (injection drug use),” the report reads.

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