Supervised injection sites provide sterile equipment and medical supervision for drug users to inject illegal substances obtained on the street, as well as other services such as health care, counseling and referrals for drug treatment.
In 2017, the deadliest year ever recorded, 1,441 people in New York City died from a drug overdose, 80 percent of which involved opioids. Williamsburg residents Jaren Canady, 28, and Alyssa Grippo, 24, who were found dead in an apartment on North Eighth Street on April 29, are suspected to have overdosed.
Supervised injection sites are intended to reduce these deaths, the transmission of infectious diseases and public drug use. They are part of the city’s goal to reduce opioid deaths by 35 percent by 2022.
“This step demonstrates a serious commitment to preserving lives and leading individuals towards the path to recovery,” Councilman Stephen Levin, whose district encompasses the proposed Gowanus site, said. “Big challenges require bold solutions, and these centers will be an important tool to prevent overdose deaths in our city.”
The $100,000 feasibility study was commissioned by the City Council in 2016. It has received support from numerous public health experts, elected officials and community leaders.
Levin was among a group of protesters arrested last Wednesday after blocking traffic during a demonstration calling for the release of the report.
In addition to the Gowanus site, a pilot program would include locations in Washington Heights, Midtown West and Longwood in the Bronx, areas that have existing needle exchange programs that can facilitate supervised injections.
Opponents, however, are concerned that supervised injection sites would pose a threat to local communities.
“This is bad news for neighborhoods because drug dealers are true entrepreneurs,” said Bob Capano, who ran for a City Council seat in Bay Ridge last year. “They will set up shop next to the closest subway station near these facilities to better serve their customers."
Federal laws prohibit drug possession by individuals and puts constraint on organizations that facilitate drug use. If these laws are enforced by federal authorities, the clients, operators and staffs of supervised injection facilities could risk arrest, prosecution, extensive fines and possible prison time.
The Department of Health made its recommendations with these risks in mind and despite the restrictions, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. have already expressed support for the program.
“I intend to work with the NYPD, local officials and members of the community to make sure that any facility opened in Brooklyn would be safely integrated into the community and would connect substance users to treatment and other health and social programs,” Gonzalez said.
There are currently no supervised injection facilities operating in the U.S., but there are approximately 100 worldwide, spread over 10 different countries and 67 cities.
A number of other U.S. cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and Philadelphia, are also exploring the use of supervised injection sites to prevent overdose deaths.