New York, NY – Following Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement last night that fatal drug overdoses increased by 10% in 2015 – the fifth straight year – advocates applauded new city initiatives to curb the epidemic while renewing their call for supervised injection facilities (SIFs), a public health strategy that has been proven to reduce overdose deaths.
“We’ve seen the evidence and it’s overwhelming,” said NYC Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “There simply has never been a fatal overdose at a supervised injection facility anywhere in the world. Not only that, studies consistently show they reduce the number of deaths in the community and connect people to badly needed healthcare.”
SIFs are a harm reduction service that provides a safe, hygienic space in which people may inject pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of health workers. Nearly 100 SIFs exist around the world. They have been rigorously evaluated and shown to steeply reduce overdose deaths, HIV and viral hepatitis infections, and public disorder, and to increase access to drug treatment and other healthcare.
“When I was homeless and injecting heroin under the Manhattan Bridge, having a SIF would have stopped me from becoming infected with HIV and given me the help I needed to become well,” said Shantae Owens, a member of the advocacy organization VOCAL New York and a harm reduction outreach worker on the Lower East Side. “I really appreciate the Mayor’s announcement today, which included smart investments in peer programs, research, and harm reduction services, but we have to go a step further and allow SIFs. We have to stop this needless suffering.”
Some thirty organizations have endorsed the “SIF NYC” campaign, which began in 2015 with a series of public events involving people who inject drugs, healthcare and civil rights advocates, faith communities, and elected officials. Last week the new group, New York Healthcare Professionals for Supervised Injection Facilities, launched a letter of support that has been signed by nearly 70 physicians and nurses so far. Dr. Aaron Fox, an addiction medicine physician from the Bronx, said “We need to do everything we can to counteract this opioid overdose crisis, especially here in the Bronx. As a physician, I know we have effective treatments like methadone and buprenorphine, but I also know that we can do more to prevent overdoses for those who are not in treatment. Community naloxone distribution saves lives. Supervised injection facilities would save lives. Harm reduction saves lives.”
Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, Chair of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said, “The new programs and funding announced by the Administration, which include the first significant expansion of lifesaving harm reduction measures in years, represent a monumental change in the way we think about and treat addiction. In light of the growing crisis, we must use every tool available – that's why I am working with a growing coalition of advocates and elected officials statewide on legislation to authorize SIFs in New York.”
Several neighborhoods in the Bronx had the sharpest increases in deaths last year. Jose M. Davila, President & CEO of BOOM!Health, a longstanding Bronx harm reduction organization, said that “the release of the latest New York City overdose mortality data confirms what those of us working in the Bronx have known all along: naloxone access for overdose, although vital, is not nearly enough to counteract the devastating consequences of the criminalization of drug use and substance use disorder. We are committed to working with local and state officials, the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, and our partners in the harm reduction community to expand the life-saving resources available to drug users, including through the creation of supervised injection facilities.”
“At a time when the United Nations is holding a special session on drug policies, the news of an increase in New York City overdose deaths is especially devastating. This week world leaders are acknowledging that our past approaches to drug policy have failed. It is the time for Mayor Bill de Blasio to lead the way in implementing drug policies that can succeed,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “If we want to save lives, reduce criminalization, and end racial disparities, we need comprehensive, innovative, and forward-thinking approaches like supervised injection facilities. New York City is in a unique position to step up and implement innovative drug policies rooted in science, compassion, and public health as we did with syringe exchanges before.”
For more background on the campaign for supervised injection facilities, visit www.SIFNYC.org.