Updated: Jan 24
On November 30th, 2021, OnPoint NYC – a nonprofit providing clean syringes, harm reduction counseling, HIV testing, and other services to people who use drugs – earned approval to allow supervised substance use onsite at their two locations openly. Why? With record-high drug overdose fatalities in NYC during the pandemic, opening the country's first overdose prevention centers has one goal: to save lives by having someone on hand to intervene with treatments when an overdose occurs.
New York Harm Reduction Educators' drop-in centers in Harlem and Washington Heights require certain criteria for people to participate, including long-term drug dependence. At these overdose prevention centers, visitors can bring all types of drugs and consume drugs in various methods, not just by injection, although these facilities are often called "supervised injection sites." Along with a general smoking area, participants go into a closed-off area when it's their turn so that they can use drugs like heroin, cocaine, etc., under supervision.
Using slightly differentiating models at the centers enables researchers to evaluate how they compare and develop somewhat of a "blueprint" for the rest of the country interested in implementing sites in other areas. The center in Harlem keeps a registered nurse and care coordinator on hand. In contrast, the other center is mostly staffed by peers, many of which are active drug users themselves trained to use the same techniques a clinician would to prevent and reverse overdoses.
Local community leaders, political organizations, and others have responded to the opening of these centers with backlash. But, during the first two weeks of operation, more than 350 participants registered. The staff had also reversed 43 overdoses in those first weeks, most without even using Naloxone because assistance – the staff – was there the minute substances hit the system.