Equipped to reverse overdoses, New York City’s new, privately run “overdose prevention centers” are a bold response to a tide of opioid overdose deaths nationwide. Supporters say the sites — also known as safe injection sites or supervised consumption spaces — are humane, realistic responses to the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. Critics see them as illegal, defeatist answers to the harm that drugs wreak on users and communities, the Associated Press reports. In their first three months, the sites in upper Manhattan’s East Harlem and Washington Heights neighborhoods halted more than 150 overdoses during about 9,500 visits — many of them repeat visits from 800 people in all. The sites are planning to expand to round-the-clock service this year. “It’s a loving environment where people can use safely and stay alive,” says Sam Rivera of OnPoint NYC, a nonprofit running the centers. “We’re showing up for people who too many people view as disposable.”
New York City’s only Republican in Congress, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, has pressed the Justice Department to shutter what see sees as “heroin shooting galleries that only encourage drug use and deteriorate our quality of life.” She wants to strip federal money from any private group, state or local government that “operates or controls” a safe injection site. Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney is a leading sponsor of an addiction-fighting proposal that could make money available for such facilities. Organizers say the New York sites currently run on private donations, though their parent group gets city and state money for syringe exchange, counseling and many other services offered alongside the consumption rooms. People bring their own drugs to the consumption rooms, which are stocked with syringes, alcohol wipes, straws for snorting, oxygen and the opioid-overdose-reversing drug naloxone. Staffers, some who have used illegal drugs themselves, watch for signals of overconsumption or other needs, from advice on injection technique to more complicated help.