BOERUM HILL – In an effort to prevent opioid overdoses in the city, Mayor de Blasio announced on Thursday a one-year pilot program that will provide safe, supervised injection facilities for New Yorkers suffering from drug addiction.
On Friday, the locations of the four supervised injection facilities, or overdose prevention centers as the Mayor calls them, were announced. Housed in facilities that currently host needle exchange programs, the sites will be located in Midtown West and Washington Heights in Manhattan, Longwood in the Bronx, and at 80 4th Avenue in Boerum Hill (on the border of Park Slope) in Brooklyn, home to Vocal New York.
“Four sites have come forward that currently are needle exchange programs and have the expertise to handle this,” the Mayor said on Friday during the Brian Lehrer Show’s weekly “Ask the Mayor” segment. “They say ‘Gowanus.’ As a Brooklynite, I would call it Park Slope,” the Mayor said when asked about the location of the proposed Brooklyn site. “It’s 4th Avenue a few blocks south of the Barclays Center. It’s really not near the Gowanus Canal.”
Last year, there were 1,441 fatal overdoses in New York City—the deadliest year on record, according to an Overdose Prevention report released by the Mayor’s office last Thursday. In 2017, more people died in NYC from drug overdoses than from suicide, homicide, and car accidents combined, the study adds.
“We’ve got to understand the nature of addiction, it is not a character flaw, it’s a human reality,” the Mayor said. “We’ve got to help people out of addiction. We need to get them to where they can get treatment. We’ve got to stop overdose deaths. You cannot save someone and turn their life around if you lose them to overdose…. As a matter of saving lives we’ve got to see if this approach will work and will help contribute to turning around this crisis.”
The Mayor argues that the supervised injection facilities would help reduce overdose deaths, infectious disease transmission, and public drug use. The facilities will offer safe and clean spaces for people to inject drugs using sterile equipment while being supervised. The centers will also provide health and social services.
“These overdose prevention centers come with a whole host of physical health, mental health, drug treatment services, that allow people to get help and potentially change their lives for the better,” the Mayor said.
In an impact study conducted by Weill Cornell Medical College, it was found that the four supervised injection facilities could prevent up to 130 overdose deaths annually and reduce associated annual costs to the NYC health care system by approximately $7 million.
While Canada, Europe, and Australia have offered supervised injection facilities for years, there are currently none operating in the United States, though along with NYC, several U.S. cities including Philadelphia and San Francisco are considering them, WNYC reports.
“We have to show this can work here and we have to show it can work in a way that is not harmful to the surrounding neighborhood,” de Blasio said. “I’m convinced with a strong NYPD presence and strong coordination with local elected officials and stakeholders we can achieve that.”
The Mayor said that the program will require approval from the New York State Health Department as well as the approval of the District Attorneys of each corresponding borough. He noted that Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is on board with the plan. He added there will be a community process to ensure all “valid community concerns are addressed” and “ultimately the approval of the local council member” will be needed. Council Member Stephen Levin (District 33) who represents Boerum Hill, supports the centers. Last Wednesday Levin was arrested during a protest calling on the Mayor to announce his overdue decision on the supervised injection facilities.
“The NYPD is going to be a part of the planning from the very beginning,” de Blasio continued. “We’ve had a number of conversations with Commissioner [James P.] O’Neill about this. There’s going to be a strong police presence in the areas around these sites to make sure that things are handled properly. We do not want quality of life disrupted. We will not tolerate any illegality outside these sites.”
On Friday, the New York Post published an article on local parents opposed to the centers opening in their neighborhoods. Daniel from Park Slope called into the Brian Lehrer show to express his concern about the Brooklyn site (80 4th Avenue between Bergen & St. Marks Place) being located in an area with a number of schools.
“As to the community realities, I’m very sympathetic, I live in that community,” the Mayor replied. “I know the location very well and everything around it very well…. I can say as someone who historically has lived in the Park Slope community, and will be returning very soon, I think this is something we should try but I’ll tell you we are going to have a strong presence of the NYPD and other agencies around these overdose prevention centers to ensure that quality of life is not disrupted, to ensure there is not illegal activity tolerated outside these centers.”
Opened in 1998, Vocal New York is a membership organization that empowers low-income people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, drug use, and incarceration, and works to build “healthy and just communities.”
“This is currently a needle exchange program, so people going in and out similarly are dealing with addiction, sadly, and that has not had a negative impact on the quality of life in the community. I know that because I have been living in the community since 1992, and the center that we’re talking about there has been there for quite a while,” de Blasio continued.
“We will be working with the NYPD from the very beginning to ensure there is a safe environment and orderly environment around these overdose prevention centers,” the Mayor said. “We will not tolerate anything less. That’s absolute.”