ALBANY — Being arrested for a felony didn’t stop one of Dr. Betty Kolod’s patients from using illegal narcotics, the doctor says.
“Homelessness and the criminal charges he faces actually drove him to use even more drugs,” Kolod told CNHI.
This man, at least temporarily, no longer lives on the street. He is hospitalized, she said.
She and a coalition of public health advocates say the state should expand the use of overdose prevention centers, also known as safe injection sites, to deal with the growing number of fatal overdoses.
“We have seen that overdose is the number one cause of death among homeless people.” said Kolod, a doctor from New York. “People living in precarious housing are exactly those who have no place to use drugs. This is the population that would most likely use an overdose prevention centre.
New York City has become the first municipality in the nation to allow sites where drug addicts, while being monitored by staff members trained to deal with overdoses, can inject drugs they bring to the facility. . Users can have drugs tested to determine if they contain life-threatening fentanyl or other adulterants.
A measure dubbed the Safer Consumption Services Act would expand overdose prevention centers statewide. Advocates say more than 200 lives have already been saved at the two New York facilities through overdose reversal.
One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, D-Manhattan, said he was optimistic the bill would be introduced by the Assembly Health Committee in the coming week. He is the chairman of this committee.
The approach advocated by Kolod and dozens of other addiction experts remains controversial. Some law enforcement officials argue that it is inappropriate for government-sanctioned places to host the injection of illegal drugs.
Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond said allowing drug use on the sites would only facilitate addiction to life-threatening narcotics.
“We would allow self-destructive behavior,” said DuMond. He says he is skeptical that a drug addict visiting such a facility could be referred for treatment by one. “Once a person goes down this path, they lose all sense of control and common sense.”
The New York facilities also came under fire from Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-Staten Island. She tagged them “heroin shooting galleries that only encourage drug use and deteriorate our quality of life.”
But VOCAL-NY, a progressive advocacy group that seeks to build support for the legislation, said lawmakers’ inaction on the bill would result in the deaths of New Yorkers who use drugs dangerously.
“The Senate and Assembly must heed the calls of New Yorkers – from upstate to downstate – and urgently pass the overdose prevention bills and reject the idea that saving lives is partisan or divisive,” said Jasmine Budnella, director of drug policy for the group.
Gottfried said overdose prevention centers in New York are well run and have created no negative impact on surrounding neighborhoods. He noted that he had visited such an establishment during a visit to Vancouver, Canada, and had come away impressed with the quality of its management.
“They have health care providers and counselors on site,” said the veteran lawmaker. “It’s a very effective harm reduction approach to saving lives. The current system certainly does not save lives.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, from April 2020 to April 2021, more than 100,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses. It was the highest death toll over a 12-month period since this data has been tracked.
DuMond said he supports more robust efforts to extend treatment resources to people struggling with addiction. As for the injection sites, he says, “It’s going in the wrong direction and sending the wrong message.”