Hundreds of drug safety advocates urge governor to approve plan for spaces they argue could save lives amid opioid crisis
Thirteen activists supporting safe drug injection sites were arrested Wednesday afternoon for barricading the entrance of New York governor Andrew Cuomos office building.
About 200 other drug safety advocates marched in front of the building in Manhattan in an attempt to pressure Cuomo to support the opening of safe injection sites in New York City a plan that has been waiting for the governors approval since May 2018.
Among those arrested Wednesday was Nan Goldin, an art photographer and activist who led protests against the US museums that took donations from the Sackler family. Goldin said fighting the stigma and providing a whole system of healthcare and treatment of addiction is essential to fight the opioid crisis.
The stigma has been exploited by all the pharmaceutical companies thats what is killing people, she told the Guardian.
The protest, organized by the not-for-profits Housing Works and End Overdose NY, by came in the wake of a major week for the US opioid epidemic, which has claimed over 400,000 lives over the last two decades and kills 130 every day. On Monday the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $572m for its role in the crisis, and on Wednesday the Sackler family, the billionaire family behind the maker of OxyContin, said they would personally pay between $10bn and $12bn to settle more than 2,000 opioid claims.
Safe injection sites, also known as overdose prevention centers, are meant to give chronic addicts a safer alternative to places like alleyways or public parks where they can administer drugs obtained on the street by providing them with sterile equipment and medical supervision.
There are an estimated 100 safe injection sites around the world, including in Europe, Canada and Australia. Though research on the effectiveness of safe injection sites is slim, cities such as Vancouver that have opened clinics have cited successes in decreasing overdose-related deaths and getting more people to addiction treatment. Advocates also say the sites reduce the spread of HIV and other diseases.
Yet despite pushes from cities including San Francisco, Seattle and Denver, no safe injection sites have opened in the United States, in large part thanks to relentless federal opposition.
A messy legal battle is still brewing in court after Safehouse, an overdose prevention not-for-profit, was sued by federal prosecutors after trying to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia. The former US attorney general Rod Rosenstein wrote in a New York Times op-ed arguing that the sites can create serious public safety risks by giving people a taxpayer-sponsored haven to shoot up.
But safe injection site advocates argue that people are using illegal drugs anyway, whether they have a safe place to do it or not.
These people are going to use it whether you want them to use it in a safe space or not, said Kimberly Sue, a medical director of the Harm Reduction Coalition in New York. The alternative is that people are using it in McDonalds and dying. The alternative is a Starbucks opens up in your neighborhood, and a Starbucks worker is traumatized because someone is blue and dead (from overdose) in there Its a preventable tragedy.
New York Citys mayor, Bill de Blasio, released a plan in May 2018 to open four sites, funded and operated by not-for-profits, after the city completed its $100,000 study weighing the pros and cons of such facilities. The plan has yet to receive approval.
We have been in active dialogue with advocates and the city on the proposal while addressing potential law enforcement concerns and the threat of legal challenges. Above all, our priority is protecting the lives of New Yorkers, said Jonah Bruno, a spokesperson for the states department of health.
Asia Betancourt, another activist at the protest, said that she believes the safe injection sites could have helped her brother, who died from an overdose in 2009.
My brother died behind an opioid epidemic. Being stigmatized whenever he went to rehab, he was treated less than human. Eventually, he went to the streets and never went back.