New York Going to Pot

January 3, 2019 / News / Crime & Courts
New York Going to Pot

BY NATHAN RILEY

On or about April 1, New York will go to pot. That was the conventional wisdom at a well-publicized mid-December Albany conference on legalizing recreational marijuana. That assessment was quickly confirmed by Governor Andrew Cuomo himself.

Making pot legal will be a prime objective of his third term, and things can move lickety-split. A Democratic governor with progressive Democratic majorities in the Assembly and Senate could advance the bill in the state budget, due on the first day of April.

That would be proof positive that ending the partisan gridlock between the Democrats and Republicans in Albany will will bring change — fast.

Cuomo has decided that his way to greet a new era is to reform the criminal law, create a new industry, and discover new ways to bring money into the state for badly needed programs. Legal adult use is expected to create all these benefits.

In a December 17 speech, the governor previewed his plans for New York. The criminal justice agenda would “address the forms of injustice” that befall minority residents — both by legalizing marijuana and ending cash bail. Imposing cash bail on people too poor to have the money leads their families to becoming victims of extortion or forces them to plead guilty to charges that the wealthy could fight. There are, Cuomo charged, two kinds of justice — “one for the wealthy and one for everyone else.”

Marijuana has had an outsized importance in the criminal justice reform push. Legalization both unlocks a forbidden pleasure and is a gateway for ending mass incarceration, a major cause of black and brown poverty.

In New York State, about 64 percent of the black and brown prisoners come from seven New York City neighborhoods: “Harlem, and the Lower East Side in Manhattan, South/ Central Bronx, Bedford Stuyvesant, Brownsville, and East New York in Brooklyn, and South Jamaica in Queens.” These men are parents and their families suffer because the primary wage earner is locked in prison based on coerced pleas. City Comptroller Scott Stringer found that neighborhoods with the lowest household income had the highest marijuana arrests rates. The State Health Department concluded that the benefits of adult use in combating this crisis of community poverty outweighed the longstanding objections to marijuana legalization.

What remains unresolved is one of the most contentious issues in the discussion: Where will the revenues from taxing legal marijuana go? With a fast start, it is expected that legal pot could bring in hundreds of million in the first year and nearly a billion to state and local governments annually going forward.

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That optimism is based on using the State Liquor Authority to administer the program. The SLA already regulates bars, retail sales outlets, and distributors for alcoholic beverages. Marijuana is not expected to bring greater problems than those already presented by alcohol, and many supporters believe it will improve the quality of life for many users. The SLA is in a position to jump-start legalization.

The coalition that supports legal adult use brought hundreds of people to Albany on December 11 and 12 under the leadership of the Drug Policy Alliance, the George-Soros-funded group that has called for a new drug policy since Ronald Reagan was president and whose importance keeps growing. The group is attracting additional interest because it won’t back away from its view that ending stigma and offering health care to opioid users includes legal access to heroin in safer consumption facilities where they would have medical supervision. That perspective is based not on the view that drugs are “bad” but rather that their consumption should be integrated into the public health system, allowing people to use drugs in ways that reduce harm.

Switzerland and Holland offer users heroin-assisted treatment. In Switzerland, only a few people choose heroin. Most users choose buprenorphine or methadone, which are both available to New York users. The intriguing fact about Switzerland is that nobody stays on heroin forever; users taper off at their own pace. The opioid crisis in the US remains deadly: since 2010 more 20,000 New Yorkers have died from an overdose after buying drugs in the underground economy.

It’s the firm conviction of the Drug Policy Alliance that legalizing adult use of pot alone will not end the drug crisis.

Joining the DPA in the Marijuana, Justice, Equity and Reinvestment Conference were Jim Capolino + Company, representing many entrepreneurs interested in legal marijuana, and the Katal Center, a group dedicated to ending mass incarceration. Other members of the Smart New York Coalition include public defenders, farmers, parents and friends of people who overdosed, and the staff of many state legislators.

By the end of December, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered his endorsement of legal pot, adding to the momentum for change. But the mayor flatly opposed giving the SLA authority to regulate marijuana. Even though the city’s nightlife industry attracts visitors from across the globe, de Blasio’s report claims the SLA “severely limits the ability of New York City to respond to alcohol-related quality of life issues that arise at the community level.”

At the Albany conference, one theme received constant play: that allowing localities to control the rollout brings delays and forces supporters to reargue the question in town after town. Even in communities where voters overwhelmingly support legal weed, local towns councils around the country are voting to opt out of legal sales. In Royal Oak, Michigan,, according to the Detroit Free Press, voters approved legal pot by a 70 to 30 percent margin, only to see the city commissioners vote 4-3 to prohibit marijuana businesses.

The big battle in Albany might not, in the end, be over SLA control, but rather over how to use the money. Should it be returned to seven city neighborhoods where the poor have long found their lives criminalized or should it go into a general pot for the billions needed to rebuild the subways and public housing?

Updated 9:07 am, January 3, 2019 published at gaycitynews.com

Iron Law of Prohibition at Work in Overdose Death Epidemic

72,000 overdose deaths is the latest Center for Disease Control estimate for 2017. It’s a huge number; more deaths than AIDS took in a single year. Beyond speaking of increasing support for vague “public health” measures, the New York Times story blamed substances more than policies for this painful failure.

But drug war opponents do blame criminal justice. It’s called the iron law of prohibition: the greater the intensity of law enforcement, the higher the potency of the drug. A former director of NORML in 1986, Richard Cowan, summed it up “the harder the enforcement, the harder the drugs.”

When alcohol was prohibited, beer and wine disappeared, and the bootleggers made gin often described with gallows humor as “bathtub gin” industrial alcohol mixed with flavoring in a tub that on occasion poisoned the drinkers.

Today the poison is fentanyl ordered on the internet from China and delivered in packages like the thousands of other items. Of course, if we had friendly relations with this emerging power we could negotiate restrictions, but under Trump such requests are impossible.

The kick this drug adds to heroin and lately to stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine is an example of the iron law.  None of these drugs are made with any protection for the consumer. Different policies can produce different results.

In 2015, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction published comparative statistics for overdose fatalities. Portugal which decriminalized all drug use in 2001meaning drug users and their street level suppliers no longer fear arrest or police intrusions had 3 overdose deaths for every million citizens. The second lowest rate. Clearly decrim hadn’t caused the disaster of increased use and endangering children that the prohibitionist warns will happen if police are replaced by public health officials.

The European average overdose deaths per million was 17.3, the United Kingdom was way above average at 44.6, while for the Dutch it was 10.2

In the United States, using a different statistical base from the UN Office of Drug Control, in 2015 the death rate was 245.8 per million people between the age of 15 to 64 [https://www.statista.com/chart/9973/drug-related-deaths-and-mortality-rate-worldwide/].

August 31 is International Drug Overdose Awareness Day and the United States is pledged to increase treatment and access to overdose prevention medicines while also increasing police enforcement.

The iron law of prohibition suggests the increasing the intensity of law enforcement and implementing tolerant public health measures will conflict or an even create worst public health problem.

With desperate brevity, the current problem in the U.S. can be examined under this lens. In 2000 when doctor prescriptions for pharmaceutical opioids were high and before warnings spread that doctors oxycontin pills caused addiction, the pills were easily diverted. But 20-20 hind sight reveals opioid related overdoses were low during this unregulated era.  As restrictions on pharmaceutical supplies increased overdose deaths started to increase.

The overdose deaths examined in 2000 were traced to pharmaceutical pills, by 2010, pharmaceuticals were a declining cause while heroin was on its way up. People who formerly depended on pills had become injecting heroin users. In 2000 deaths from fentanyl were virtually non-existent by 2017 it was the major problem and what’s worse fentanyl is now mixed with meth and cocaine making these stimulants surprise killers. This is the paradox of the iron law, when pharmaceutical pills were easily found, there were overdoses, but history makes it clear the level of overdoses deaths were low, and public health measures could have kept this number down without any police involvement.

Today the drug war is renewed by alarm over overdose deaths, Sheila Vakharia Phd a Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance reports that stimulants are a growing cause of overdose deaths. The CDC’s latest national overdose data [https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm] – for the period between December 2015 and December 2017, she wrote in an email, showed “cocaine-involved overdose deaths  went from 6,841 to 14,058 (over doubled) and methamphetamine-involved deaths went from 5,777 to 10,523 (80+% increase).” In NY state over the same period “cocaine-involved overdose deaths went from 354 to 690 (almost double- 95% increase) and methamphetamine went from 36 to 133 (269% increase!!).” This problem is not going away.

What should have been done around 2000 when it was discovered pharmaceuticals were being used by drug users was an intensive education campaign about how to recover from overdoses and instruction on how to minimize harm from using the pills.  A long-range strategy would also have looked at why these pills were becoming attractive to users while regulators attacked the false advertising of Purdue Pharma. One reason for the increase in addiction is that users thought pills were safer than injecting heroin.

This perception is correct but these pills being legal could also be controlled with relative ease and that is exactly what happened; the pills were cutback and users started injecting heroin and then dealers started cutting heroin with fentanyl and we really saw deaths explode reaching the 72,000 figure.

Enforcement also creates other problems. So-called synthetic marijuana, it’s plant matter that isn’t pot and why this is critical will become apparent shortly. What gets a person high is spraying a chemical, designed to mimic pot but never tested for safety, on the plant matter.

This is another way enforcement enters the picture. Synthetic marijuana is potent but cheap, $2/3 for a joint that can get a person high most of the day because one toke makes most people blasted. This makes it attractive to the homeless and it is also attractive to people on parole (who are often homeless) who are drug tested constantly, but because the chemical that is sprayed hasn’t been labeled illegal by the DEA and can be sold legally. And what this means if the parolee is drug tested, he or she is listed as clean. Surveillance of drug users follows the iron law, it makes user seek ever more dangerous and potent substances

Criminalizing a person’s intimate habits is a bad even fatal idea.

And let us conclude with a great leap of faith. Opposing the prosecution of users and their dealers is something that conventional politicians like Andrew Cuomo support reluctantly, while the inexperienced politicians like Cynthia Nixon and Zephyr Teachout are proving to be open minded about new methods of coping with drug use. From this perspective their inexperience becomes an asset.

Racial Bias Found in Westchester Pot Arrests

BY NATHAN RILEY | The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to marijuana enforcement in New York City’s suburbs.

Black and brown people are singled out for marijuana possession arrests in Westchester County, according to studies by the Drug Policy Alliance and suburban civil libertarians.

A new study of Westchester arrests found racial disparities comparable to the ones that mar city enforcement and provide evidence that legalization of pot would provide real benefits to communities of color.

Suburban county’s law enforcement pattern mirrors NYC’s

Per 100,000 people in Westchester, 15 whites but 182 blacks and 84 Latinos were arrested for possessing pot. Some portion of those people of color arrested face the risk of deportation as the result of this enforcement pattern.

The study, prepared by Kathy Kaufman of the Westchester Coalition for Police Reform, found that between 2013 and 2017, one in 63 of Westchester’s black adult residents was arrested on a low-level marijuana possession charge — a probability of arrest for black people that was exceeded only by Suffolk County outside of New York City.

Young people of color were arrested more often than white youth, burdening them with a criminal record.

“Between 2013 and 2017, Westchester police arrested 1,059 youth under 20 years old for low level marijuana possession, accounting for nearly one in three (29 percent) arrests on that charge County-wide,” the study found. “Fifty-eight percent — a total of 2,322 people — arrested for low-level marijuana possession in Westchester County were 25 years old or younger.”

The report “Marijuana Arrests and Enforcement in Westchester County: A New York Story” sustains the argument recently advanced by the State Health Department that legalization would communities of color because an “emerging body of research” shows that “the risks to public health and social wellbeing of legalizing marijuana are smaller than previously thought” and the “the detrimental effects of the current marijuana enforcement regime” cause more harm than the alternative of making pot available for adult use.

The Westchester study was funded by the Drug Policy Alliance as it pushes for passage of laws to tax and regulate marijuana sales as is currently done in California, Colorado, and Massachusetts.

This story was posted on August 2, 2018 at GayCityNews.com

De Blasio Dithers on Marijuana

BY NATHAN RILEY | Public officials in the city and state should suspend marijuana enforcement until Albany resolves the pressing question of legalization.

A new consensus is gaining momentum that the risks of marijuana can be controlled by public health measures. At its recent State Convention, New York State Democrats supported legal adult sales of recreational marijuana, declaring that weed is “is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.”

Meanwhile, top health officials in New York City and New York State have endorsed a tax and regulate model for adult recreational use. It is a new era where health issues need no longer hinder legalization, and the debate centers on how to implement a new approach to marijuana.

Mayor’s supposed “advance” will still lead to arrests

In a report to Governor Andrew Cuomo made public last week, Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, said he doesn’t subscribe to the theory that marijuana represents a gateway to harder drugs. Zucker’s conclusion has been widely held by other public health officials for years. The National Institute of Drug Abuse points to some rodent studies that indicate early use of marijuana could make the brain susceptible to an appetite for other drugs. Studies like this agree with epidemiological data that show that use of drugs in early adolescents is correlated with abuse as adults. But then there is a big qualifier here: “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.”

Moreover, NIDA notes “cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. Alcohol and nicotine also prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs.” This trio of drug are “typically used before a person progresses to other, more harmful substances.”

Given this pattern, NIDA offers “an alternative to the gateway-drug hypothesis.” Drug users “are simply more likely to start with readily available substances such as marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol, and their subsequent social interactions with others who use drugs increases their chances of trying other drugs.” You choose friends you are comfortable with and, in turn, you have shared activities.

From this perspective, the longstanding war on pot is not justified; use of marijuana may have a link to other drug use later in life, but it doesn’t necessarily cause it. Arrests are unwarranted, particularly given the high likelihood that legalization is on its way, but Mayor Bill de Blasio remains stubbornly resistant to this new reality.

With a great flourish, he recently announced that smoking in public would be greeted with a summons not arrests, arguing he was making a real concession.  But other member of the Democratic Party and advocates blasted his proposal.

The chairs of two criminal justice committees in the City Council joined advocates June 20 on the steps of City Hall attacking the mayor’s plan. Their critique burst de Blasio’s hopes of appearing progressive; the plan, they said, represented only the smallest of steps forward.

Queens Councilmember Rory Lancman, who heads up the Committee on the Justice System, blasted the mayor’s plan on the steps of City Hall and in a statement, saying, “No one should be arrested for smoking marijuana, period.” Calling the new plan a sham, he noted that a speeding ticket is a civil summons, but that de Blasio’s action on marijuana involves a criminal summons.

“The mayor’s policy does not attempt to reduce criminal summonses at all, still allows arrests in circumstances that cannot be justified by public safety,” Lancman said.

Then, in a thrust that must hurt a mayor whose political persona is defined by opposition to all forms of discrimination, Lancman predicted the plan “will likely make marijuana policing even more discriminatory toward people of color, continues to expose noncitizens to deportation, and takes no steps to eliminate the collateral consequences which are in the city’s control.”

Joining him was another Queens councilmember, Donovan Richards, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety that oversees the NYPD, as well as Brooklyn Councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Jumaane Williams, the latter of whom is challenging Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in the September Democratic primary and is aligned with Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial bid.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a likely candidate for mayor in 2021, joined the demonstrators, saying “too many live have been ruined, too many people of color have been targeted.” As he left the speaker’s podium, he reminded everyone that he is “the money guy. If you will legalize, you will actually create a $3 billion dollar industry” and tens of thousand new jobs. With more revenue, he said, “you will have an opportunity to invest more in the community.”

Kassandra Frederique, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, called for a “clear-cut policy saying no arrests, no justification for putting people into the criminal system — period.”

Public defenders, organizations representing minority youth like Make the Road New York, and drug reformers like VOCAL-NY also stressed that New York must stop relying on criminal penalties.

Under the mayor’s plan, anybody stopped for marijuana who is not carrying identification can be arrested and fingerprinted and that could lead ICE to identify them for deportation, Legal Aid Society lawyers argued.

According to de Blasio, his plan will make things better because there will be fewer arrests.

But he avoids a basic ethical question. If marijuana will be legal in eight or nine months, how can enforcement be justified now? Campaigners for legal marijuana are eager to avoid any arrests for a drug that is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. Keeping young people’s records clean means they can can qualify for better jobs and increase their earning potential — a factor particularly salient in low income neighborhoods and communities of color. This is one piece of the argument that legalization will be good for the state’s economy.

The case against arrests is implicit in the Democratic Party’s recent resolution. “Marijuana laws have not had a significant impact on marijuana availability,” the statement reads. If the law fails to curb use, then no individuals, much less poor black and brown youth, should be criminally punished in a futile exercise. That is why enforcement should be suspended and the Legislature be given time to create a new policy.

The mayor’s “advance,” meanwhile, continues major injustices. As Gothamist headlined its story about de Blasio’s announcement: “NYPD Will Stop Arresting SOME People For Smoking Pot.” Among those who will be arrested are parolees. It is hard to think of a crueler outcome for getting high than going back to prison after enjoying freedom. In fact, according to the Daily News, some federal judges are refusing to play along with this. Judge Jack Weinstein, a liberal lion on the federal bench in Brooklyn, made the news with “a remarkable 42-page ruling explaining why he would not send 22-year-old Tyran Trotter back to prison for three years — longer than his original sentence! — for smoking pot, a technical violation of his post-release terms,” according to the Daily News.”

In his years as mayor, de Blasio has displayed an uncanny talent for isolating himself politically. His ties to the drug reform movement were already frayed by his long delay in supporting safer consumption spaces that offer medical support to drug users during their time of greatest peril in the minutes after they inject. His months-long stall on the issue is now being followed by Cuomo’s own foot-dragging in giving the state’s go-ahead.

If de Blasio were to advocate for complete suspension of marijuana law enforcement pending action in Albany, he would become a leader with a national constituency and polish his fading progressive image. Instead, he is allied with the police, which will always show more loyalty to Cuomo than to him in any event. At a time when the mayor needs allies and a chance to reignite the initial enthusiasm he stirred, he is increasing his troubles by standing pat rather than making a bold move forward.

This article was posted on GayCityNews.com on July 19, 2018

Safe Consumption Delay Prompts City Hall Sit-In

 

BY NATHAN RILEY | Chanting “no more overdoses,” 75 angry New Yorkers packed the steps of City Hall on April 5 and then a smaller group staged a sit-in at the gates leading to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, forcing police to eject them. The demonstrators were making an emotional plea to the mayor that he release a feasibility study about safe consumption facilities that give drug users medical supervision while they are getting high.

In such spaces, users consume product they buy on the street under the watchful eye of an overdose prevention worker. Should a user slip into unconsciousness, these workers are only steps away and can administer naloxone, a public health wonder drug that reverses overdoses and restores normal breathing. There have been thousands of overdoses at such facilities in cities like Frankfurt, Sydney, and Vancouver, but nobody — as in zero — has ever died.

On February 5, Dr. Mary Bassett, the city health commissioner told a City Council budget hearing that “the public health literature is clear.” Despite that definitive statement, de Blasio has kept the health department study under wraps. Yesterday’s City Hall protesters charged that in the 59 days since Bassett’s testimony, there have been approximately 236 overdose deaths in New York.

Advocates demand de Blasio release study of facilities where drug users have medical support

Charles King, the CEO of Housing Works, an AIDS services group, opened the protest on a personal note.

“Today marks the 14th anniversary of the death of Keith Cylar, one of the co-founders of Housing Works and my life partner for some 15 years,” he said.

Then adding that he was speaking “not just on behalf of people living with AIDS and HIV, but also on behalf of people who use drugs,” King said, “Keith spoke with particular passion and urgency. He was not only a black gay man living with AIDS, he was also addicted to drugs his entire adult life. And whether it was long-term degeneration caused by AIDS or long time use of cocaine that caused his cardiomyopathy, and whether the heart attack would have happened anyway or was triggered by the crack he smoked that night, his death certificate says he died of a drug overdose. I will go to my grave knowing that if someone had been with him at that moment who knew how to intervene, he might well be standing here with us today.”

Also in impassioned remarks, Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said, “Safe consumption spaces are critical to saving lives. We don’t need a report to tell us what we already know, what we need is leadership.”

The mayor, she added, isn’t “leading the parade, he’s following it.”

As other speakers addressed the crowd, King and about a dozen others went inside City Hall and tried to enter de Blasio’s suite of offices. When refused at the gate leading to the mayor’s wing of the building, they sat down chanting “no more overdoses.” Police approached a limp Charles King and, with some difficulty, dragged him out of the building. Some others among the demonstrators were also carried out, while some stood up on their own. Police made no arrests either inside or out, and the rally on the steps lasted an hour and a half.

The mayor, arriving at City Hall in the middle of the demonstration, decided against walking through the protest.

In 2016, Corey Johnson, an out gay city councilmember who then chaired the Health Committee and is now Council speaker, put a $100,000 appropriation into the health department budget to pay for the safe consumption space feasibility study, at a time when overdose deaths in the city had reached 1,300 a year, more than the combined total from vehicle accidents, homicides, and suicides.

King said the report was finished in December, but the mayor has so far declined to release it publicly.

In an email, Johanne Morne, director of the AIDS Institute in the State Department of Health, said flatly, “Safe Consumption Spaces have shown success in other countries.” The idea, she continued, should be “an item of consideration” for “interventions in response to the opioid epidemic.”

In a strongly argued editorial in February, the New York Times declared the safe consumption space approach a “rigorously tested harm-reduction method” that has “proved incredibly effective at slashing overdose deaths.”

Councilmembers Mark Levine of Manhattan, chair of the Council Health Committee, and Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, chair of the General Welfare Committee, support the program.

The citywide coalition of treatment providers, medical professionals, and harm reduction activists are boiling over with anger at a delay that prevents drug users from gaining timely access to a life-saving medicine.

A drug user overdosing is helpless and depends on another person to help them regain normal breathing. Safe consumption spaces are specifically designed to meet this emergency and also allow health professionals to begin a constructive engagement with users about other means of reducing the harm caused by their drug habit.

This article was posted on GayCityNews.com on April 6, 2018

Safe Consumption Delay Prompts City Hall Sit-In

BY NATHAN RILEY | Chanting “no more overdoses,” 75 angry New Yorkers packed the steps of City Hall on April 5 and then a smaller group staged a sit-in at the gates leading to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, forcing police to eject them. The demonstrators were making an emotional plea to the mayor that he release a feasibility study about safe consumption facilities that give drug users medical supervision while they are getting high.

In such spaces, users consume product they buy on the street under the watchful eye of an overdose prevention worker. Should a user slip into unconsciousness, these workers are only steps away and can administer naloxone, a public health wonder drug that reverses overdoses and restores normal breathing. There have been thousands of overdoses at such facilities in cities like Frankfurt, Sydney, and Vancouver, but nobody — as in zero — has ever died.

On February 5, Dr. Mary Bassett, the city health commissioner told a City Council budget hearing that “the public health literature is clear.” Despite that definitive statement, de Blasio has kept the health department study under wraps. Yesterday’s City Hall protesters charged that in the 59 days since Bassett’s testimony, there have been approximately 236 overdose deaths in New York.

Advocates demand de Blasio release study of facilities where drug users have medical support

Charles King, the CEO of Housing Works, an AIDS services group, opened the protest on a personal note.

“Today marks the 14th anniversary of the death of Keith Cylar, one of the co-founders of Housing Works and my life partner for some 15 years,” he said.

Then adding that he was speaking “not just on behalf of people living with AIDS and HIV, but also on behalf of people who use drugs,” King said, “Keith spoke with particular passion and urgency. He was not only a black gay man living with AIDS, he was also addicted to drugs his entire adult life. And whether it was long-term degeneration caused by AIDS or long time use of cocaine that caused his cardiomyopathy, and whether the heart attack would have happened anyway or was triggered by the crack he smoked that night, his death certificate says he died of a drug overdose. I will go to my grave knowing that if someone had been with him at that moment who knew how to intervene, he might well be standing here with us today.”

Also in impassioned remarks, Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said, “Safe consumption spaces are critical to saving lives. We don’t need a report to tell us what we already know, what we need is leadership.”

The mayor, she added, isn’t “leading the parade, he’s following it.”

As other speakers addressed the crowd, King and about a dozen others went inside City Hall and tried to enter de Blasio’s suite of offices. When refused at the gate leading to the mayor’s wing of the building, they sat down chanting “no more overdoses.” Police approached a limp Charles King and, with some difficulty, dragged him out of the building. Some others among the demonstrators were also carried out, while some stood up on their own. Police made no arrests either inside or out, and the rally on the steps lasted an hour and a half.

The mayor, arriving at City Hall in the middle of the demonstration, decided against walking through the protest.

Housing Works CEO Charles King being dragged out of City Hall by police after staging a sit-in. | JARON BENJAMIN/ HOUSING WORKS

In 2016, Corey Johnson, an out gay city councilmember who then chaired the Health Committee and is now Council speaker, put a $100,000 appropriation into the health department budget to pay for the safe consumption space feasibility study, at a time when overdose deaths in the city had reached 1,300 a year, more than the combined total from vehicle accidents, homicides, and suicides.

King said the report was finished in December, but the mayor has so far declined to release it publicly.

In an email, Johanne Morne, director of the AIDS Institute in the State Department of Health, said flatly, “Safe Consumption Spaces have shown success in other countries.” The idea, she continued, should be “an item of consideration” for “interventions in response to the opioid epidemic.”

In a strongly argued editorial in February, the New York Times declared the safe consumption space approach a “rigorously tested harm-reduction method” that has “proved incredibly effective at slashing overdose deaths.”

Councilmembers Mark Levine of Manhattan, chair of the Council Health Committee, and Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, chair of the General Welfare Committee, support the program.

The citywide coalition of treatment providers, medical professionals, and harm reduction activists are boiling over with anger at a delay that prevents drug users from gaining timely access to a life-saving medicine.

A drug user overdosing is helpless and depends on another person to help them regain normal breathing. Safe consumption spaces are specifically designed to meet this emergency and also allow health professionals to begin a constructive engagement with users about other means of reducing the harm caused by their drug habit.

This was posted on GayCityNews.com on April 6, 2018

Advocates Charge Homeless Shelters Lax in Supplying Narcan to Prevent Overdoses

first published on ManhattanExpressNews.nyc on Oct 5, 2017

BY NATHAN RILEY | Advocates for the homeless are pressing the City Council to mandate that shelter staff from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) as well as their clients have ready access to medicine that reverses overdose poisonings, allowing the victim to breathe unassisted almost immediately.

Nobody disputes the need for making Narcan available at the shelters. Overdoses are the leading cause of deaths among the homeless. Minimal training is required; Narcan can be administered by a person after a single training session. Also known as Naloxone, it is sprayed into the nose and, in most cases, after one or two squirts normal breathing is restored.

Narcan use in city shelter facilities is up, according to records supplied by DHS.

“We support the HealingNYC goal” of “increasing Naloxone training,” said Isaac McGinn, the department’s spokesperson, referring to the city’s multi-agency effort at preventing opioid deaths .

Despite such assurances, Vocal-NY, the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project, and the Coalition for the Homeless are pushing for legislation to make this training mandatory for the staff at shelters and to require that their homeless residents be taught how to administer Narcan.

These advocates are angry because in their view the city is not making public health its priority in the battle again opioids. The NYPD receives the lion’s share of the new funding, with additional detectives hired and every overdose investigated as a potential homicide. For groups representing the homeless and others who use drugs, an approach based on actions after a person has died is callous. Users are at risk from overdosing, but it need not be fatal. Narcan will save their lives, and a public health approach based on prevention must be prioritized, advocates say.

The HealingNYC initiative was announced in March, and it calls for homeless shelters to make Narcan available. Public health experts see it as an indispensible tool in bringing down a death toll that reached a new record last year. In 2016, there were 1,374 overdose deaths in all settings citywide, a 46 percent increase over the previous year.

The bill advocates are pressing for was introduced on Jan. 17 by Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres, and its 22 co-sponsors include Upper West Side Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, East Councilmember Ben Kallos, and Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson from Chelsea. Despite the wide co-sponsorship, the measure has languished and was a bit player at an April 20 Council hearing.

Angered by the delay, advocates and residents from homeless shelters held a news conference on the steps of City Hall on Sept. 27 blasting both the Council and DHS.

“What have you been doing for nine months?” demanded Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Joshua Goldfein of the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project summed up the groups’ frustrations by saying there is “not a medical reason, not a legal reason, not a policy reason” to oppose Torres’ legislation.

Their complaints are being heard.

 

Councilmember Ritchie Torres’ office said he is negotiating the fine points of legislation he authored with DHS and expects his measure to pass this month. | Photo by Donna Aceto

Torres’ office said negotiations are proceeding with DHS about the legislation’s fine points, and he expects a bill will pass this month. McGinn, speaking for DHS, confirmed that agency officials “are collaborating closely” with the Council.

At last week’s press conference, shelter residents claimed that staff there are slow to respond to overdose incidents and prevent residents from using their own kits to reverse overdose crises.

Whatever may have happened in the past, DHS says it has adopted new procedures and has now trained all staff members. Shelter residents at City Hall last week, however, voiced skepticism about those claims.

With overdose deaths mounting across the city, DHS recently filled a long-time vacancy by hiring a medical director, Dr. Fabienne Laraque, a public health specialist with a background in HIV and hepatitis C prevention who formerly worked at the city health department. Laraque has taken the lead in training DHS police and staff in the use of Narcan, tapping medical school students from NYU late last year in “a massive effort” to get all agency staff up to speed on overdose prevention.

OD reversals are increasing at DHS shelters, with the agency boasting that it intervened successfully on more occasions in the first eight months of this year than in all of 2016 — 99 versus 97.

Each use of Narcan is reviewed the DHS medical staff, which can offer suggestions for follow-up. The agency may recommend, for example, that a homeless person who has called an ambulance for an overdosing partner be trained in the use of Narcan to enable immediate help if another incident arises.

The city health department’s goal is to have drug users, their friends, and families all have Narcan readily accessible. In addition to homeless shelters, needle exchange programs, the Harm Reduction Coalition, and Vocal-NY offer training in properly administering the medication.

According to health department statistics, overdose deaths among homeless New Yorkers rose 13 percent in 2016 over the previous year to 239, though most of those deaths occurred outside the shelter system. The city medical examiner has found that many of the deaths that occurred in shelters were due to multiple causes, such as a heart attack occurring along with an overdose.

DHS voiced confidence this week that its new procedures can reverse more than 90 percent of ODs among shelter residents. Those residents who joined advocates at City Hall last week, however, remain convinced that deaths are higher than acknowledged and that legislation is needed to make certain that Narcan is available when needed in every city shelter.