Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday committed to opening four supervised injection facilities where drug users can inject under medical supervision — putting the NYC at the forefront of a controversial practice that’s sparked debate across the country.
The sites are slated to open as one-year pilot programs at existing needle exchange centers in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, Midtown West and Washington Heights in Manhattan, and Longwood in The Bronx.
The city would need authorization from the State Health Department, district attorneys and the local council member in each pilot district in order to move forward with the plan.
The opioid epidemic has killed more people in our city than car crashes and homicides combined,” said de Blasio. “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.”
City officials said they’ll take 6 to 12 months to have discussions with the impacted communities before opening the sites, which currently don’t exist anywhere in the country.
A number of US cities are taking steps toward opening supervised facilities – including Philadelphia and San Francisco — but none have opened to date.
Dozens of safe injection sites have opened in Europe, Canada and Australia in recent decades.
The facilities are meant to provide drug users and addicts a safe place to inject heroin in the midst of a national opioid crisis — while giving service providers a place to approach users about changing their habits.
The sites would also help move drug users and their needles indoors — away from park benches and fast-food restrooms — and would make anti-overdose medications available on site.
But opponents of the facilities say they wrongly sanction the use of dangerous drugs and can lead to safety and quality-of-life problems for the surrounding neighborhoods.
There were 1,374 overdose deaths in the five boroughs in 2016 — up 47 percent from the 937 deaths in 2015. Preliminary data shows those numbers edged up slightly in 2017 — to 1,441 deaths from overdose.
A Health Department study commissioned in September 2016 by City Council and released alongside the mayor’s plan on Thursday said the pilot program could save as many as 130 lives and up to $7 million annually.