NYC Public Health Experts Hold Rally and Press Conference at NY City Hall in Support of Safer Consumption Spaces
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New York, NY – On April 12, 2018; at the steps of City Hall, and on the heels of last week’s protest of Mayor de Blasio’s silence on safer consumption spaces as a life saving intervention, members of Housing Works, VOCAL, Harm Reduction Coalition, Drug Policy Alliance, BOOM! Health, SIFNYC, and other advocacy groups continued their efforts to publicly educate Mayor de Blasio on the strong evidence behind supervised consumption sites (SCS) as a public health intervention that saves lives.
Someone dies of an overdose every 7 hours in New York as overdose crisis now kills more people than traffic accidents, homicides, and suicides combined. Since SCS advocacy began in earnest in NYC in 2007, there have been nearly 9,000 overdose deaths in the city.
Thursday’s action comes on the heels of a powerful rally last week made up of 100 harm reduction advocates, directly affected people, housing activists, medical professionals, and treatment providers at City Hall that demanded the Mayor takes a position on the lifesaving intervention of SCS beyond that they are “complex.” The rally, which included civil disobedience, led to a dozen protesters being dragged out of City Hall as they protested Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inaction on supervised injection facilities. The sit-in on the steps of City Hall forced the mayor to use a side-entrance to the building when he arrived.
Advocates are deeply disheartened that the Mayor and First Lady have failed to mention, even once, the that SCS saves lives, despite Health Commissioner Bassett stating that the “public health literature is clear.” The Mayor has said he is going to release the study this month. However, advocates are concerned that the Mayor has either not been briefed on the vast public literature on SCS, or he is choosing not to take a position because of politics. Advocates will demand he take a position on this issue to prevent more deaths after thousands have already passed away.
“In a moment when New York State’s overdose crisis continues to grow–with overdose deaths killing more New Yorkers than traffic accidents, homicides, and suicide combined–we need bold thinking and action,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State director of 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 safer consumption spaces. New York 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. It is the time for New York’s elected officials to lead the way in implementing drug policies that can succeed.”
“For too long, we have watched our fellow New Yorkers die of overdose while the Mayor and First Lady bat around words like ‘complicated,’ ‘complex,’ and ‘soon,'” said Robert Suarez, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY. Safer Consumption Spaces have been proven to save lives and connect people to care, and in the over 30 years that they’ve existed, no one has ever died of an opioid overdose in one. The Mayor needs to stop stalling and come out in support of SCS now before more lives are lost.”
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.
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. Last year, San Francisco’s city health officials said they could potentially open safe injection sites within 8-12 months. Kings County in Washington State has been approved to open an SCS. Maryland, Vermont, California, Maine and Massachusetts have all introduced legislation to approve the sites. Beyond academic research, a growing body of editorial boards and opinion pieces have highlighted the need: New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, US News, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun, Seattle Times, Bloomberg News, LA Times, The Nation, and the Boston Globe.
The American Medical Association (AMA) voted to support the development of pilot safer consumption spaces. The New York Academy of Medicine and Massachusetts Medical Society also both publicly support safer consumption spaces, and the Journal of the American Medical Association published a review of research supporting safer consumption spaces. In April 2017, more than 100 New York City healthcare professionals signed an open letter in support of safer consumption spaces, urging elected representatives to adopt them as a public health intervention to prevent overdose deaths.
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