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NYC Opens First U.S. Overdose Prevention Center

NYC Opens First U.S. Overdose Prevention Center

To help reduce the drug overdose crisis, New York City has opened two overdose prevention centers. In 2018, the first statewide bill for OPCs in New York was introduced and accepted by Mayor de Blasio, NYC’s Dept. Health and Mental Hygiene, and the NYC Council. Legal and political disputes have squashed plans for overdose prevention centers in Philadelphia and San Francisco and have delayed New York’s goals. With just four weeks left on his term, Mayor Bill de Blasio was proud to provide the city with a “safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis.” 

“After an 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,” said de Blasio. “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.” 

Overdose prevention centers are safe spaces where people who use drugs can receive medical care under a trained staff’s supervision and access to sterile consumption equipment. They also have access to tools to check for the presence of fentanyl, counseling, drug treatment, and referrals to health and social services. In jurisdictions around the world, OPCs have proven to prevent overdose deaths — there has never been an overdose death in any OPC. Further, a Health Department study found that New York City OPCs would save up to 130 lives a year.

This past year saw the highest totals for drug overdose deaths in New York City and nationwide. More than 2,000 individuals died of a drug overdose in New York City. The Centers for Disease Control projects that more than 90,000 individuals died of a drug overdose across the United States. For the 12 months ending in April 2021, CDC provisional overdose data estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., an increase of 28.5% from the previous 12-month period.

Since 2015 the Drug Policy Alliance has been at the forefront of advocating for OPCs to help curb the overdose crisis. According to their studies, other countries have shown these centers significantly reduce overdose deaths. The Alliance cites persistent stigma from “drug war hysteria”-inspired stigma in the U.S. for the legal barriers against OPCs.

But in New York, these services are coming online now at a crucial time to turn the tide against the ongoing opioid crisis. 

“We have lost too much to rely on the same playbook. It’s time to take bold action to help our most vulnerable neighbors and the communities they call home,” said Melanie Hartzog, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. 

Health services across the country are fighting opioids and overdoses simultaneously as they face the continuing battle against COVID and the dramatic uptick in homelessness.

“Giving people a safe, supportive space will save lives and bring people in from the streets, improving life for everyone involved,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. “Overdose prevention centers are a key part of broader harm reduction.”

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