Just one month before the end of his term as mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio inaugurated on Tuesday, Nov. 30, two centers for addicted people to consume drugs with medical assistance under the argument that it is ‘safer’ than doing it on the streets. During the first day of being operational, five people overdosed and at least one was hospitalized.
“Overdose Prevention Centers are a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis. I’m proud to show cities in this country that after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible,” de Blasio said in a statement.
The two centers are located in the boroughs of Harlem and Manhattan.
According to the New York Post, on the same Tuesday that the centers opened, five overdoses occurred at the East Harlem center where 85 drug addicts injected drugs laced with fentanyl, including heroin.
Since the centers did not allow the press to take photos, talk to the drug addicts or the staff running them, it was not possible to corroborate what happened to the people who overdosed, but the owner of a bar nearby who made an anonymous statement for fear of having his business vandalized, said he saw one person being taken away by ambulance.
“We have had some overdoses today,” said Kailin See, program director of New York Harm Reduction Educators, one of the centers, and said everyone ‘survived.’
The centers are run by nonprofits with experience in the program.
De Blasio previously tried to enable these centers but both then-President Trump and Governor Cuomo opposed them.
The mayor’s arguments
Last year, more than 2,000 New Yorkers died from drug overdoses, the highest number since 2000. The drugs most commonly involved in the deaths are opioids, particularly fentanyl manufactured in China and distributed by Mexican cartels that is even deadlier than heroin.
Between January and March of this year, another 596 people lost their lives to addiction. A study by the city’s Health Department concluded that the centers could save up to 130 people a year.
However, according to Joe Borelli, minority leader of the city council—a Republican—there is the example of the Canadian state of British Columbia, which has been a leader and pioneer in North America in setting up and running safe centers to assist drug addicts, and every year the number of overdose fatalities has been higher than the previous year, proving that the measure does not achieve the goal.
The centers violate federal controlled substance law
Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican lawmaker from New York said the establishment of such centers violates federal controlled substance law and was the reason former President Trump blocked de Blasio’s initiative.
Malliotakis said that in January 2021 in Philadelphia the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was a federal crime for a nonprofit organization to oversee a site where people use illegal drugs.
“Instead of focusing on the root cause of the drug epidemic, Mayor de Blasio is enabling drug cartels that continue to break our laws, smuggle illegal drugs over our border, and prey on our children,” Malliotakis said.
“Crime and fentanyl use are at record highs because of open borders, botched bail reform, and anti-police policies that keep releasing criminal drug dealers back onto our streets. Opening taxpayer-funded heroin shooting galleries is not a proper solution. These centers not only encourage drug use but they will further deteriorate our quality of life,” he added.
It remains to be seen whether the new mayor, Eric Adams, who will take office in four weeks, will keep open or close the centers in the future.