Pressure mounts on New York with Rhode Island Safe Consumption Win

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NOTew York lags behind its neighbors on vital drug policy issues. From adult-use marijuana to decriminalizing psychedelics, neighboring states like New Jersey and Massachusetts have so far done more to dismantle the war on drugs. Today, Rhode Island has become the first state to allow Safe Consumption Sites (SCS).

The SCS reduces fatal overdoses by providing people who use drugs with a safe and supervised facility to do so. In addition to providing sterile supplies such as syringes, SCS staff can use readily available naloxone to reverse overdoses. There has never been a single overdose death in any known SCS in the world.

SCS staff can also refer visitors to other services, including HIV and hepatitis C testing, substance abuse treatment, and mental health care. SCS does not provide drugs to its participants, contrary to the claims of opponents.

Rhode Island’s hotly contested authorization is not permanent, at least not yet – it is a two-year pilot program, with the proviso that any facility must obtain local approval from its city council before d ‘to open. It is still, however, a massive victory in the country’s larger struggle to legalize SCS. Where is New York on this same issue?

A failure of state leadership

New York’s harm reduction advocates had gained traction in 2017, successfully pushing Albany to introduce a bill allowing SCS across the state. Lawmakers have revived the bill in every legislative session since then. He is currently sponsored by Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-The Bronx) and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan).

In May 2018, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made a landmark statement agreeing to support SCS. On the same day, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a report estimating that SCS would prevent 130 drug overdose deaths in the city each year.

The plan was to get the city’s SCS up and running in six to twelve months. They would be housed in four syringe service programs (SSP) located across Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

But then Governor Andrew Cuomo effectively stopped them from moving forward by demanding that they pass a “mandatory exam” by the health department. Three years later, this review is still pending.

“The governor is the only bloc to launch this pilot program for us.”

It also appears that Cuomo bluntly lied to the lawyers. In June 2018, they responded to his string of lukewarm commitments by planning a die-in at a Pride event supporting his re-election. One of his associates contacted organizers and persuaded them to cancel it, in exchange for which Cuomo allegedly promised to sign on SCS after the election. Once re-elected, Cuomo never recognized the deal.

“The governor is the only block to get us started with this pilot program that we could have had years ago,” said Jeremy Saunders, co-director of VOCAL-NY. Filtered. “We could have saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. “

“It is a governor who opposed the interventions regarding roaming, reduce incarceration or raise taxes for the rich. He opposes any demand that would improve the lives of the poor, the working class, most people …until he is forced to do otherwise.

De Blasio’s two-year pilot program would still face challenges if Cuomo eventually allowed it. PIslands can be less than ideal, as for SCS to survive the long term, it needs the support of community residents, businesses, and even the police. There is also no guarantee that after this period the city and state would agree to let SCS continue.

“Knowing how New York works, the funding doesn’t come months after the promise and regulations take a long time,” said Mike Selick, associate director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition. Filtered. “Many of these programs may need to apply for funding and make changes to their building before they actually get started. I’m just worried that public support doesn’t come until the moment the pilot [ends]. “

Advocates hope Rhode Island’s permission will make it easier for other states to pass similar legislation. While Selick doubts Cuomo will ever approve of de Blasio’s plan, he feels more optimistic about Rivera and Rosenthal’s legislation, which would allow SCS anywhere in New York State. Ithaca has already expressed interest.

“We are frankly at a point where our community just needs to act.”

“We are frankly at a point where our community just needs to act. It’s up to us to step up… forcing the government to take a stand, ”Saunders said. “We have long enjoyed the support of the State to set up our [private] bathrooms that are a safe place to inject. I showed them to people on national television. Opening up supervised consumption is such a minor change.

As with all criminalized health care practices, underground SCSs operate in the United States and around the world without government approval. But SCSs that open without permission from city and state leaders risk arrests of staff and participants, and of course site closures.

In addition to risking the seizure of buildings and equipment through the confiscation of civilian assets, the life-saving SSP could be lost if the governor revokes the special regulations that allow them to operate, or revokes funding for them. state that’s so crucial to their budgets – Cuomo’s funding has gone above and beyond withholding in the past.

“Rhode Island can show other jurisdictions that are almost ready to pull the trigger that they can,” Selick said. “Everyone is reluctant to be the first to do it. But once one place accepts, we’ll see a lot of other cities follow.


Photography via New York State

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