Brooklyn Boro

OPINION: Just say no to ‘safe’ injection facilities

July 19, 2018 By Jack Ryan For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Photo courtesy of Cagle Cartoons
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In the midst of the deadliest opioid drug epidemic that this city has ever faced, the mayor has welcomed a supervised heroin injection facility in Brooklyn and he is hoping you too will welcome it.

We are hoping the people of Brooklyn and Queens will tell him, “Not here.”

In the spring, Mayor De Blasio announced he intended to open one of the country’s first so-called safe-injection sites for addicts at an existing needle-exchange facility in Brooklyn. That facility, run by an organization called VOCAL, is now open in Boerum Hill. More centers are planned throughout the city.

The mayor reasons that, “The opioid epidemic has killed more people in our city than car crashes and homicides combined. We believe overdose-prevention centers will save lives and get more New Yorkers the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction.”

“This is currently a needle-exchange program, so people going in and out similarly are dealing with addiction, sadly, and that has not had a negative impact on the quality of life in the community …We will be working with the NYPD from the very beginning to ensure there is a safe environment and orderly environment around these overdose prevention centers,” the Mayor said. “We will not tolerate anything less. That’s absolute.”

This seems like a misuse of the NYPD.

As we see it, the bottom line is that the injection centers will do nothing more than provide addicts with a safe way to inject poison into their veins. The addict purchases the drug from a dealer who is already breaking the law. The addict has no way to know the quality or strength of the drug or even if it is heroin at all.

At the injection sites, registered users are given a syringe and a private room with a locked door where they can shoot up. There is an intercom in each room and if the addict overstays the time limit, the administrator will ask if he/she is OK. If the person doesn’t respond, the lock is released and someone enters the room.

The facility is equipped with medication to counter an overdose. And if the medication doesn’t work, the facility can call for an ambulance.

This program confuses compassion with lunacy. We support community investment in helping users to deal with substance addiction but we do not think any community should be asked to welcome a shooting gallery.

Before opening the first injection center, the city released a comprehensive Supervised Injection Study.

The study begins with a chilling summary of the threat facing the city: “Like the rest of the country, New York City has experienced alarming increases in overdose deaths over the last 15 years. The number of deaths from overdose in New York City have more than doubled since 2000, with an increase of over 2.5 fold since 2010. In 2017, provisional data shows that 1,441 overdose fatalities occurred in New York City, the highest number ever recorded. Over 80 percent of these deaths involved opioids. Someone dies every seven hours of overdose in New York City; there are more annual deaths from opioid overdose than from car crashes, suicides, and homicides combined.”

The crisis is real. The city also found a number of medical and mental health experts who support the concept of free needle exchanges and safe injection facilities such as VOCAL. The argue that “By providing sterile injection equipment and a safe space to inject, SIFs can further reduce transmission of bloodborne infections, including HIV and hepatitis C (HCV).”

They add, “Supervised injection facilities, as well as syringe exchange programs, educate clients about safer injection techniques and proper syringe disposal, which disseminate through networks of people who inject drugs and can lead to increased community use of safe and hygiene techniques.”

And they say, “Supervised injection facilities increase referrals to drug treatment …”

But the bottom line is that sale, purchase and use of heroin is illegal. The mayor is asking the taxpayers to subsidize and facilitate criminal activity with the unproven hope that it will reduce drug addiction.

There are better ways to deal with the drug crisis. In communities where the crisis is most acute and centered on the misuse of prescription drugs, emergency overdose kits have been widely distributed and are saving lives.

But there is no place in Brooklyn or Queens where “Safe” Injection Facilities would or should be welcome.

—Jack Ryan, editorial page editor

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