It’s been two months since New York City opened the first-ever overdose prevention center (OPC) in the United States, and public health experts say the clinic is already saving lives.
CPOs are a form of harm reduction, that is, a set of strategies aimed at minimizing the negative effects and consequences of drug use, and at “keeping people who use drugs alive and well.” as healthy as possible,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In this case, CPOs are places where people can use drugs in a setting where nurses or other clinical staff are present and which can help prevent fatal overdoses.
As of Feb. 8, the center has served nearly 700 New Yorkers and responded to 134 overdoses, according to OnPoint NYC, which operates the site.
Critics said CPOs are places that allow people to use drugs without attempting to help them get clean and that state and local governments are forced to pay for materials including crack pipes and meth pipes, to feed people’s addictions.
But drug war advocates and other experts have said these centers are key to reducing opioid-related deaths, de-stigmatizing drug abuse and connecting people to resources for their addiction, all in an environment sure.
“We are now creating safe spaces that people can use that no longer feel criminalized,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of criminal law and policing reform at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit seeking to reduce the harm of drug use, ABC News told ABC News. “People can come and feel safe. They no longer consume in the alleys or by themselves.”
She said CPOs prevent drug users from other harmful behaviors that could increase their risk of death, such as taking contaminated drugs or injecting with dirty or shared needles. Staff may also administer naloxone, a drug to reverse overdoses.
“At these centers there is immediate access to life-saving overdose prevention interventions,” Kaltenbach said. “People don’t share needles, for example. So preventing the spread of disease by reducing HIV and hepatitis C is huge.”
CPOs also traditionally have links to services such as mental health therapy, addiction treatment programs and housing.
“It’s a step forward in realizing, in treating drug use as a health problem and not a criminal problem,” Kaltenbach added.
It comes as the nation reaches its most disappointing milestone in the ongoing opioid epidemic.
According to Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses between May 2020 and April 2021.
This means that approximately 1,923 people died from drug overdoses each week.
According to United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
The problem is widespread across the United States, including New York City, according to Dr. Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:
“In 2020, more than 2,000 New Yorkers died from drug overdoses,” he told ABC News. “This means that every four hours a New Yorker dies from an overdose and the total number is greater than the deaths from homicides, suicides and motor vehicle accidents combined. So this is a fire in five public health alarms.”
There are currently two sites in the city, one each in the Manhattan neighborhoods of East Harlem and Washington Heights, and are operated by OnPoint NYC, which has merged with New York nonprofit educators Harm Reduction and Washington Heights Corner Project. .
“We humanize and give hope to people who too often society views as disposable and defines them by their mistakes,” Sam Rivers, executive director of OnPoint NYC, told ABC News in a statement.
OPCs are not without detractors, who argue that the centers enable drug addicts, who will simply die of overdoses in other settings.
Dr. David Murray, co-director of the Center for Substance Abuse Policy Research at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, said illicit drug users will take drugs “beyond the borders of the establishment”.
“It is not uncommon for addicts to inject multiple times a day, and…the site of consumption simply becomes one more place to consume drugs, providing only a fraction of the overall exposure of a drug addict,” he wrote in a column for the Hudson Institute in August 2020.
But Kaltenbach and others say OPCs reduce the amount and frequency of drug use and reduce public disorder and public injection while increasing public safety.
At Insite, the first overdose prevention center in North America, which opened in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 2003, a study found that the rate of fatal overdoses in the area around the site dropped by 35% after it opened.
Additionally, the programs help increase entry into substance use disorder treatment programs, according to Kallenach. Another one study found that more than half of Insite users entered drug treatment within two years.
There are currently 120 OPCs operating in ten countries around the world, and the Drug Policy Alliance says there has not been a single overdose death at any OPC.
“No one is claiming they’re a silver bullet to everything we’re seeing with respect to the overdose crisis or the broader set of drug use issues,” Chokshi said. “To do that means investments like the ones we made in New York to reduce barriers to access to treatment…investing in needle service programs so that people have access, not just to safe and own, but also to all the other services, whether it is housing or placement, or food and medical care, basic human needs, that are provided in these programs.”