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Supervised Injection Sites for Drug Users to Open in New York City

“We have always been trying to strike the right balance between enforcement, rehabilitation and prevention,” Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said in an interview. “I would rather have people who are going to shoot up do it in a safe and secure venue as opposed to a McDonald’s bathroom, an alleyway or a subway staircase.”

Nationally, overdose deaths rose to more than 100,000 in the 12-month period that ended in April, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, an increase of close to 30 percent from the 78,000 overdose deaths during the same period in the previous year.

More than 2,000 people died of a drug overdose in New York City in 2020, the highest total since the city began keeping track of overdose deaths in 2000. During the first three months of 2021, there were close to 600 overdose deaths, according to preliminary data.

The city will not operate or staff the drug injection sites, Dr. Chokshi said. The two nonprofits that run the needle exchange programs — New York Harm Reduction Educators and Washington Heights Corner Project — are merging to form OnPoint NYC and will expand their services to offer supervised injection at the current sites, he said. The city provides funding to the two nonprofits.

“I know deep in my soul that we are doing the right thing,” said Sam Rivera, the executive director of OnPoint. “The data doesn’t lie.” He said the sites expected to start operating on Tuesday.

Federal law, however, has yet to catch up. A federal law often referred to as the “crack house statute” makes it illegal to operate, own or rent a location for the purpose of using illegal substances. The Justice Department, under the Trump administration, sued in 2019 to stop a supervised injection facility in Philadelphia from opening.

The Biden administration has embraced harm reduction methods but has not explicitly endorsed supervised injection sites. Dr. Chokshi said the city has had “productive conversations” with federal and state health officials, and he believes that the facilities will be allowed to operate because of a “shared sense of urgency” about addressing the overdose crisis.

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