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New York, NY: Advocates and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose blasted Gov. Cuomo in a series of billboards that began airing throughout Times Square on Giving Tuesday, pressing the Governor to “Give the Gift of Life” this holiday season by authorizing Overdose Prevention Centers. The centers, also known as safer consumption spaces (SCS), are a proven tool for preventing unnecessary and tragic overdose deaths.
The billboard takeover comes on the heels of a direct action yesterday in which drug policy activists, artist/Activist Nan Goldin, and P.A.I.N. Sackler set up a pop-up safer consumption space and held a speak-out in front of Governor Cuomo’s NYC office calling out the Governor for refusing to move forward with this lifesaving intervention.
As overdose deaths continue to increase across New York–a New Yorker dies every 6 hours of a preventable overdose–advocates in the EndOverdoseNY coalition are calling on Governor Cuomo to show his leadership and take immediate action to establish Overdose Prevention Centers.
The coalition criticized the Governor’s inaction on addressing preventable overdoses amid the seventh straight year of increased deaths in NYC. Overdose deaths have skyrocketed across New York from 944 in 2005 to 3,638 in 2016.
The EndOverdoseNY coalition demands Governor Cuomo take action to establish Overdose Prevention Centers, a proven evidence-based public health intervention to prevent overdose deaths. Internationally, there are more than 100 safer consumption spaces in 66 cities across the world and not a single person has died of an overdose in an SCS.
Photos of the billboard takeover available to press upon request.
“It’s well past time for Governor Cuomo to do what he knows is right,” said Charles King, co-founder and President/CEO of Housing Works and member of the EndOverdoseNY coalition. “Overdose Prevention Centers not only prevent overdose–they are centers of care and acceptance that serve as a gateway to deliver the services that people who use drugs need to live healthy lives.”
“Governor Cuomo cannot continue to block a lifesaving intervention and let our communities die,” said Asia Betancourt, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY and member of the EndOverdoseNY coalition. “I want to remind the Governor that we will not stay silent or patient. In May, my peers and I put our bodies on the line and were arrested outside City Hall to get the Mayor to hear our voices. We are ready to take any measure necessary to get approval for Overdose Prevention Centers.”
“As family members who have lost loved ones to overdose we are telling Gov. Cuomo that these deaths are on his hands–he must take action immediately to create Overdose Prevention Centers in New York so no other family has to experience the pain of knowing their loved one died when there was a public health tool that could have saved them. We call on Gov. Cuomo to be forward thinking and implement this effective lifesaving measure,” said Alexis Pleus, Executive Director of Truth Pharm and member of the EndOverdoseNY coalition.
“Governor Cuomo has run out of time and valid reasons to hold up implementing a public health tool that is crucial for saving lives amid the overdose crisis,” said Kassandra Frederique, NY State Director at Drug Policy Alliance and member of the EndOverdoseNY coalition. “This is not a moment for political posturing or calculus–the only thing that keeps adding up while he fails to act is the number of lives lost unnecessarily. We need the Governor to take action immediately on Overdose Prevention Centers to save lives and connect people with care.”
Earlier this year, activists pushed Mayor de Blasio to support piloting four NYC Overdose Prevention Centers. In 2016, Ithaca Mayor Myrick introduced the Ithaca Plan, which also voiced support for a overdose prevention center pilot. For the last six months, the two cities have been waiting for New York State’s Department of Health to approve the pilot. While Governor Cuomo signaled his support for the centers during the Gubernatorial debate, his stalling post-election suggests he’d rather play politics rather than be an innovative leader on the overdose crisis.
Momentum for safer consumption spaces is building across the country, with officials in Philadelphia announcing their plan to create Comprehensive User Engagement Sites (CUES), effectively safer consumption spaces, at a press conference on January 23, 2018. This year, the California State Legislature passed a bill authorizing pilot safer consumption spaces and the mayor of San Francisco pledged that the city would move forward; Governor-elect Gavin Newsom has been supportive of safer consumption spaces. Kings County in Washington State has been approved to open an SCS. Maryland, Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts have all introduced legislation to approve the sites.
Nearly 100 safer consumption spaces 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. Millions of injections having taken place at some of them, yet not one overdose death has been documented in these facilities.