by Nathan Riley
Charles King of Housing Works supported by LGBTQ allies, drug reformers and the thousands of New Yorkers whose heart aches for a friend or loved one who has died from a drug overdose has offered Kathy Hochul, the new governor a great gift. A chance to make history by opening Safe Injection Sites.
Tuesday the 31st we honor those whose lives are cut short by prohibition.
Every day hospitals prescribe pain killers to make patients comfortable and they don’t overdose. Out in the streets, where government hassles drug users, people die young from using drugs similar to those administered safely by doctors all over the world. In 2020, 5,112 New York residents died from overdoses, nearly 100 every week.
Drug users have a right to nurture. And that includes the right to health care. Present law prevents doctors from giving patients the drugs they want. Consequently, they buy drugs made without scientific supervision. The drugs are flawed – their production unsupervised by government regulators. The medicine we buy at the drug store is not made this way.
Illegal drugs outlaw status heightens their risk making them more dangerous than the pharmaceuticals. Safe injection sites soften the harsh impacts of drug prohibition.
The idea is simplicity itself; part of the public health strategy called harm reduction. An overdose turns fatal when a person stops breathing. Once breathing stops time becomes measured in minutes. Often the ambulance will arrive too late.
So this is the public health solution: have the oxygen tanks, naloxone, an anti-overdose drug that restores breathing, on site only steps away. The nurse or overdose specialist is right there. These programs offer the drug users a quiet and sterile facility to get high. If this goes wrong then help has time to restore normal breathing.
It not only makes sense, but it works in Geneva, Vancouver, Frankfort and Sydney—in 120 locations outside of the United States. Safe Injection Sites are recognized worldwide.
The practicality of keeping care givers on site is evident. At the same time, the users continue to buy from their underground contacts, so the programs are not drug dealers. These programs stop overdoses from becoming fatal, and they offer drug users a location where they get health services and practical advice.
Gov Hochul should support this program; it will help her recruit an innovative Health Commissioner whose assistance is vital as we adjust to life with Covid. By hiring a Commissioner who supports the program (and support among public health officials is strong) she makes the official responsible for creating and implementing the plan. It’s an opportunity dozens of public health officials will find irresistible. They will start the first safe injection program in the United States. It’s an historic opportunity for the doctor and the new governor.
Hiring a Health Commissioner who backs safe injection sites also gives New York an energetic and far-sighted commissioner who can support innovative programs to slow the spread of Covid-19.