The neighborhoods around two Upper Manhattan overdose prevention centers did not see a disproportionate rise in crime after they opened in late 2021, based on a study of 911 calls, summonses and other city data, Gothamist reports. The findings, contradicting anecdotal concerns about the centers as crime magnets, came in a study published on Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The only upward trend involved a slight increase in the number of 311 calls about drug use in the areas immediately surrounding the overdose prevention centers, but the overall call volume remained very low. The overdose prevention centers, also known as safe injection sites, allow people to use illicit drugs like fentanyl under staff supervision. The nonprofit OnPoint NYC, which operates the city’s two existing centers in Harlem and Washington Heights, reports that its staff have intervened in more than 1,000 potentially fatal overdoses since opening in November 2021.
During the research period, the monthly average number of 911 calls for crime and other emergencies near the overdose prevention centers decreased 30%, while remaining mostly flat in comparison areas. Calls specifically for medical emergencies near the overdose prevention centers decreased by about 50% while declining only 8.6% in comparison locations. Concurrently, the study’s authors measured a significant drop in drug and weapons arrests near the sites in Harlem and Washington Heights, which they suggested could mean that police have eased up on enforcing some laws to avoid deterring people from using the facilities. After the overdose prevention centers opened, arrests for drug possession near the sites dropped about 83%, and arrests for weapons possession plunged about 70%, the study found. The results come as Mayor Eric Adams seeks to expand overdose prevention centers to new neighborhoods, but the nonprofits trying to open these lifesaving facilities continue to face roadblocks — both in the form of local pushback and a lack of public funding. “No one is going to say that things are great around these sites and nothing could be improved,” said study co-author Brandon del Pozo, who researches public health and is also a former NYPD officer. But, he added, “The marginal effect we found on crime and disorder is nil.”