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Will Sanctioned Drug Use Facilities Be Able To Sustain Funding?

A supervised drug-use site in East Harlem is one of two that have made New York the first city to allow open use of illicit substances including fentanyl, which has driven a surge of more than a million overdose deaths over the past decade. During the 14 hours that they are open daily, workers at sites in East Harlem and Washington Heights aim to prevent overdoses and provide a path to treatment, reports the Wall Street Journal. OnPoint NYC, a nonprofit, opened the sites with backing from Mayor Bill de Blasio in November 2021. Since then, the centers have helped prevent nearly 700 overdoses, OnPoint said. They have become pilgrimage sites for health officials, politicians, and treatment groups around the U.S. hoping to replicate them. But the experiment in caring for people while they use drugs is at a crossroads. OnPoint said the private funding of around $1.4 million a year it uses to operate the sites will run out in February. Federal officials have until Jan. 9 to decide whether to continue backing a lawsuit against a proposed drug-use site in Philadelphia. The Justice Department is evaluating safe-use sites and protocols for operating them with state and local officials. The Biden administration’s approach to the case will determine whether cities including New York decide they have firm legal standing to increase support and funding for safe-use sites, legal experts and public-health officials said. “The expectation by those who stepped up and funded was that this would be the opening and that others would join,” said OnPoint NYC's Sam Rivera. OnPoint has operated two safe-use sites in Manhattan since late 2021. The sites provide a safe space for people to consume drugs. Medical services and counseling are available to visitors who are mostly homeless or living in shelters. "For us it's simple," said Rivera. "If we close in February, more people and more participants will die as a result." Legislation to create safe-use sites has stalled in Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Mexico. California Gov. Gavin Newsom in August vetoed a bill that would have allowed San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles to open free-use sites. He said sanctioning drug use could exacerbate drug problems in those cities. Some community leaders in New York also resisted OnPoint’s safe-use sites. Syderia Asberry, a founder of the nonprofit Greater Harlem Coalition, spent three years fighting against what she called the oversaturation of treatment centers and shelters in Harlem. She said safe-use sites represent an acceptance of drug use as a way of life. Rivera said the sites keep people alive to try treatment when they are ready. “It’s a health intervention,” he said. He would need $4.5 million a year to operate the sites around the clock. OnPoint has received about $1 million to fund the sites from donors including the New York Community Trust and the New York Health Foundation. The sites keep oxygen and the overdose-reversal drug naloxone on hand for emergencies. The sites also offer medical services including HIV and hepatitis C testing, wound care, medications for treating addiction, and counseling to visitors who are mostly homeless or living in shelters.

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