New York lawmakers are weighing whether to create a regulatory framework that could lead to the expansion of supervised injection sites in the state amid a record number of overdose deaths over the last year.
The measure backed by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal is meant to pave the way for supervised injection sites around the state and operate out of existing syringe exchange programs.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday. The bill's forward progress was cheered by advocates like James Hill of VOCAL-NY.
"While Overdose Prevention Centers may not be necessary in all New York State districts, they are desperately needed in communities like mine in Buffalo," he said. "With only 10 session days left on the calendar, we need our leaders to step into their power, and find the political will to pass the Safer Consumption Services Act."
Known by supporters as safe consumption sites, the program is meant to provide a safe and clean environment for the use of illegal drugs. There are already 66 cities that host such sites around the world.
In New York City, two supervised injection sites have been opened, one in East Harlem and another in Washington Heights operated by OnPoint NYC. The sites have been credited with preventing more than 150 overdoses since opening, Rosenthal said.
Lawmakers and supporters of the proposal have pointed to the record rise in overdose deaths in 2020, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic. The state Department of Health earlier this year reported 91,000 drug-involved overdose deaths in 2020, the highest in history.
In New York, the number of overdose deaths in 2020 increased by 37% from 2019, with the number of drug-involved deaths growing from 3,617 deaths to 4,965.
"We didn’t have the luxury of time when I first introduced the bill back in 2015, and we do not now," Rosenthal said. "This year alone, New York State lost nearly 3,000 people in the first six months of 2021 to preventable overdose, yet New York is leaving a critical tool unused in the toolbox.”