NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – As the number of opioid deaths continues to climb, health care providers, addiction specialists and elected officials are taking a hard look at a highly controversial yet potent weapon against overdose deaths.
Sites where drug users can inject heroin under the supervision of staff that are trained in the use of naloxone have been making headlines in Seattle, San Francisco and here in New York.
Liz Evans, with the Washington Heights CORNER Project needle exchange, testified before New York State lawmakers at a hearing last spring, explaining how the sites work.
“So people bring their own drugs that they’ve obtained unfortunately illegally still on the black market. They bring them into a place where they can use, and then they make referrals to housing, to methadone, to detox,” she said.
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Evans helped found Canada’s first supervised injection site in Vancouver in 2003 after seeing and hearing about friends overdosing in parks and public bathrooms.
“We’re going to bring all those drug users indoors, and we’re going to create all of the spaces that those folks need to get the help that they need,” she said. “Over a period of about two years, they constructed consumption sites where people could go and use drugs under the supervision of staff who prevented any kind of overdose deaths from happening, gave access to clean supplies, and then they had a whole graduated sort of continuum where some people who are long-term heroin users were actually given a prescription of heroin, which made a massive difference to their stability and life, and some people were given housing, and some people were given access to sort of graduated treatment.
“And the outcomes were phenomenal, particularly from a public viewpoint,” she continued. “Like nobody wants to walk past a park with their kids and worry that they might see somebody injecting.”
Such sites are also legal in many parts of Europe, but not in the United States.
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As it did during the AIDS crisis, New York is taking the lead.
“There have been numerous scientific studies that found in Vancouver that the presence of a supervised injection facility reduced overdoses in the neighborhood where it was located, increased entry into drug treatment among participants and did not cause increases in crime or public safety,” said…