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Legal Conflict Looms for NYC Safe-Injection Sites

New York City's two supervised drug consumption sites, the only facilities of their type operating openly in the U.S., appear headed on a collision course with federal law enforcement officials, the New York Times reports. OnPoint NYC in East Harlem and Washington Heights, where staff help drug users safely inject and ingest illegal drugs and often administer Narcan when people overdose, likely violate the so-called federal crack house statute that makes it illegal to maintain a property where illicit drugs are consumed. Local, state and federal officials have known about the center, which was authorized in 2021 by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, and it had been operating despite the illegality of the street drugs that people use there — heroin, crack, methamphetamine. But a few weeks ago, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District issued a warning to OnPoint NYC, and the city and state policymakers who support the project. In a statement to the Times, Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney responsible for Manhattan, said the sites pose an "unacceptable" flouting of federal, state and local law. "My office is prepared to exercise all options — including enforcement — if this situation does not change in short order," he said.

As more than 100,000 Americans a year continue to die in an opioid crisis that the nation has struggled to contain, some leaders have embraced a movement known as “harm reduction” to help users do drugs more safely. Research on more than 100 safe injection sites in other countries has found that they reduce public drug use and lower mortality rates. A branch of the National Institutes of Health recently began funding a five-year study of New York City’s centers, which OnPoint’s leaders believed indicated at least tacit approval by the Biden administration. Supervised consumption centers have drawn criticism for what opponents say is effectively enabling drug use. OnPoint has also angered some of its neighbors, who fear the center has brought even more drug activity to an area where it was common long before OnPoint arrived. Since the U.S. attorney's warning, the staff members at OnPoint have been trying to make sense of Williams’ words, even as they have vowed to continue functioning. The federal prosecutor has not reached out directly to OnPoint, said Sam Rivera, the organization’s executive director. City and state officials have expressed continued support for the operations, which host hundreds of visits per day. The people at OnPoint say that the realistic choice is not between a drug-free neighborhood and OnPoint, but between people doing their drugs outside, or inside, where someone is on hand to help if they overdose.


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