New York City has been grappling with a drug epidemic in recent years. In 2020, over 2,000 people died of a drug overdose in New York City. Of those deaths, over 85% were opioid-involved. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, over 596 overdose deaths were reported. Of the opioid-involved deaths, over 60% were related to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

The city has been working to combat the overdose epidemic through a variety of harm-reduction initiatives.  One of these initiatives is the opening of overdose prevention centers (OPCs).

What Are Overdose Prevention Centers?

Overdose prevention centers (OPCs) are harm reduction facilities where people can use drugs under the supervision of medical staff. OPCs are also known as supervised injection facilities (SIFs), needle and syringe programs (NSPs), or safe consumption sites (SCSs).

OPCs provide a sterile and supervised environment for people to inject drugs. Medical staff is on hand to provide clean needles and other supplies and to monitor people for signs of overdose. In the event of an overdose, medical staff can administer naloxone, a life-saving medication that reverses the effects of opioids.

OPCs also provide a range of other services, including counseling, STI testing, and referrals to drug treatment. Some OPCs also allow people to consume other drugs, such as methamphetamine, under medical supervision.

OPCs are a harm reduction measure that has been shown to reduce overdoses, the transmission of blood-borne diseases, and public drug use. They also help connect people to vital health and social services.

Benefits of Overdose Prevention Centers

There are many potential benefits of overdose prevention centers:

Overdose Prevention Centers Can Help to Reduce Overdose Deaths

OPCs can help to reduce overdose deaths by providing a supervised setting where people can use drugs under the supervision of trained medical staff. This supervision can help prevent overdoses by ensuring that people are using drugs safely and providing immediate medical care if an overdose occurs. In addition, OPCs can connect people to drug treatment and other support services, which can help to reduce the risk of overdose in the long term. As a result, OPCs can play an important role in reducing overdose deaths and promoting public health.

Overdose Prevention Centers Can Provide Resources

Another benefit of overdose prevention centers is that they can connect people who use drugs with resources like treatment and recovery services. OPCs offer counseling and referral services to those who need them. This can help people get the resources they need to recover from addiction.

Overdose Prevention Centers Can Help Reduce the Spread of Blood-Borne Diseases

OPCs can help reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. This is because OPCs provide sterile needles and other supplies to those who use drugs. By eliminating the need for sharing contaminated equipment, OPCs can help prevent disease spread. In addition, OPCs often provide education and counseling on safer drug use, which can further reduce the risk of infection.

New York’s Overdose Prevention Centers

In 2019, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to open four overdose prevention centers in the city. The centers were slated to open in 2020, but the pandemic delayed their opening. The first two government-sanctioned centers finally opened in November 2021 in East Harlem and Washington Heights.

Between November 30, 2021, and January 31, 2022, 613 individuals used OPC services 5975 times across 2 sites. The OnPoint NYC program released the following statistics from these first two months of operation:

  • Trained staff responded 125 times to overdose emergencies
  • Naloxone was administered 19 times.
  • Oxygen was administered 35 times.
  • Respiration or blood oxygen levels were monitored 26 times.
  • Emergency medical services responded 5 times.
  • Participants were transported to emergency departments 3 times.
  • No fatal overdoses occurred in OPCs or among individuals transported to hospitals.

As of September 2022, OnPoint NYC reported that OPC services had been used 34,541 times across both sites.


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Why We Need More Overdose Prevention Centers

OPCs are not new. There are over 100 OPCs in Europe, and they are effective in reducing overdose deaths. A study of OPCs in Australia found that they were associated with a 35% reduction in overdose deaths. A study of OPCs in Canada found that they were associated with a 40% reduction in overdose deaths. In the United States, OPCs have been shown to reduce overdose deaths by up to 50%.

Despite these promising results, there is currently only a handful of OPCs in the United States. This is partly because OPCs are often opposed by residents and businesses. There is also a lack of political will to invest in harm reduction efforts like OPCs.

However, the overdose crisis in the United States is getting worse, and more OPCs are needed. In 2020, overdose deaths reached a record high of 100,000. This is an increase of 28% from 2019.  The overdose crisis is being driven by the use of opioids, which were involved in 75% of overdose deaths in 2020.

OPCs can help to reduce overdose deaths by providing a safe space for people to use drugs and access medical care if needed. OPCs can also connect people to treatment and other support services. Given the scale of the overdose crisis, we need to invest in overdose prevention efforts like OPCs.

How Can Substance Abuse Recovery Professionals Help?

Overdose prevention is an important harm reduction strategy, and OPCs can play a vital role in reducing overdose deaths. However, there is currently a lack of political will to invest in overdose prevention efforts like OPCs. As a result, OPCs are not widely available in the United States.

Substance abuse recovery professionals can help by supporting overdose prevention efforts like OPCs. You can do this by:

  • Educating yourself about overdose prevention and the role of OPCs.
  • Talk to your clients about overdose prevention and refer them to OPCs if they struggle with substance use.
  • Advocating for overdose prevention efforts in your community.
  • Donating to or volunteering at OPCs.

Conclusion

The opioid epidemic continues to devastate communities across the United States. However, overdose prevention centers are a valuable resource for those in substance use recovery.  OPCs provide a safe space for people to use drugs and access medical care if needed. They can also connect people to treatment and other support services.

Substance abuse recovery professionals can help to reduce overdose deaths by supporting overdose prevention efforts like OPCs. You can do this by educating yourself about overdose prevention, talking to your clients about it, and advocating for overdose prevention in your community. Together, we can make a difference in the fight against overdose deaths.

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