Safe Injection Sites in NYC Offer Addicts a Place to Use Illegal Drugs Under Supervision

Tags: Currents Drug Addiction, Drugs, Media, World News

 Currents News Staff

For Monica Diaz, everyday is a struggle. She’s homeless and much of what she owns, she carries with her. But she says it’s the weight of her addiction that at times is too much to bear.

A place Monica credits with helping her cope is a supervised drug-consumption site – the first of two to open in the country.

“They’re open five days a week,” Monica said. “I’m here every day.”

Both locations are in New York City – East Harlem and Washington Heights. Here users take illegal drugs with clean supplies without risk of arrest. To be clear, they are not given illegal drugs here. It’s where they use drugs already in their possession.

“When somebody first comes through the door, we’re going to ask them what they’re using and how they’re using it,” said Director of Syringe Access & Program Innovation at OnPoint NYC, Pia Marcus.

In the East Harlem location, it’s all done under the supervision of these medical professionals.

“This is all of our injection and sniffing equipment,” said Pia, “as well as our smoking equipment up here so people can take anything that they need.”

In Washington Heights, the same protective protocols are in place, but here many of the trained staff are also recovering addicts, like Clara Cardelle.

Sam Rivera is the executive director of the program. He says they have averted more than 130 overdoses since the sites opened in november. So far – Sam says no one has died under the staff’s watch.

“The goal is we want to keep people alive. And if we want to recover and get a better life, if they’re dead, they can’t,” Sam said.

“We’re checking on people constantly,” Pia said. “If we start to see eyelids drooping or any kind of slouching, we’re going right over and we’re going to agitate them with a sternum grind. If we’re seeing more serious overdoses or the overdoses are starting to progress, we’re going to be going over the crash cart. Our crash cart has oral airways, ambu bags, two different kinds of Narcan.

But many may wonder what are these facilities doing to get people off drugs.

“We’re giving them every opportunity possible to stop,” Sam said. “Once someone says they’re interested, we get them picked up, right into detox.”

These centers are actually illegal because of federal law, but the Department of Justice is evaluating whether exceptions can be made so that sites like these could be opened nationwide.

When they opened in New York, the city’s former Mayor Bill de Blasio gave his blessing, sending them a letter of support.