New York City opens supervised injection sites in a 1st for US

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In an effort to reduce overdose deaths caused by increasingly potent illegal drugs, New York City opened two supervised injection sites Nov. 30, according to The New York Times.

Trained staff reversed two overdoses during the first day, officials said.

New York City is the nation's first city to open officially authorized injection sites — facilities that opponents claim encourage drug abuse but proponents claim provide a less punitive and more effective approach to address addiction.

Other cities have worked to open supervised injection sites but haven't succeeded amid legal and moral controversy.

The New York City sites were already operating as needle exchange programs. Now, staff at the sites provide clean needles, administer naloxone to reverse overdoses and provide users with addiction treatment options. Users bring their own drugs to the facilities.

"Every four hours, someone dies of a drug overdose in New York City," said Dave Chokshi, MD, physician and New York City's health commissioner.  

Nationally, more than 100,000 people died from overdoses in a 12-month period ending in April, up almost 30 percent from the 12 months before, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. In 2020, more than 2,000 people died of a drug overdose in New York City, the highest total since the city began tracking overdose deaths in 2000. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio officially allowed the sites during his last few weeks of office. The mayor also wrote to the providers, promising "not to take enforcement action" against the operations, according to the Times.

The facilities are still described as unlawful under federal law. In 2019, the Justice Department sued to stop a supervised injection facility in Philadelphia from opening. The Biden administration hasn't explicitly endorsed supervised injection sites, though Dr. Chokshi said the city has had "productive conversations" with federal and state health officials. Dr. Chokshi said he believed the facilities would be allowed to operate because of "a shared sense of urgency" to address the overdose crisis, according to the Times.

Officials from the Justice Department declined the Times' request for comment on whether they would intervene.

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