By Jorge Fuentelsaz
New York, May 27 (EFE).- In the spacious waiting room at one of the only two recognized overdose preventions centers in the United States, dozens of people watch television or chat before or after consuming drugs in a safe environment provided by OnPoint NYC, an organization working for social justice in the Big Apple.
Since the centers, known as OPCs, opened in November 2021 at locations in Manhattan’s Harlem and Washington Heights neighborhoods, staff members have successfully reversed nearly 800 overdoses, OnPoint NYC says.
Across more than 75,000 visits by the roughly 3,500 registered users, staff have only had to call an ambulance on 15 occasions, a supervisor told EFE.
The costs of treating the other 700-plus overdoses at hospitals would have been as much as $35 million, according to Kailin See, OnPoint NYC’s senior director of programs.
“I came here about a year ago. It gives us a safe place to do our thing – get high – instead of going to the park or the sidewalk or the street,” Max, a 44-year-old heroin addict, told EFE at the OPC in Harlem.
Staff member Yusef Colley, who describes himself at the “first line of defense against an overdose,” said that the center serves around 300 people a day.
Both OPCs are in the process of hiring more staff with the aim of operating 24 hours a day.
Overdose prevention is just aspect of what OnPoint NYC does and See told EFE that 87 percent of registered participants have received help with housing, medical care, or mental health.
Noting that one of the challenges OPCs face is overcoming skepticism on the part of communities and police, See said that no one has produced any evidence to show that the presence of OPCs leads to more crime.
At the same time, she acknowledged that authorization to open the OPCs would not have been forthcoming if not for support of New York’s then-mayor, Bill de Blasio.
“But somebody had to be the first,” See said, to bring the US out of the “dark ages” when it comes to the harm-reduction approach to drugs.
“We did it and the sky didn’t fall, federal agents didn’t come here or take all of us to jail. The results of both sites have been absolutely extraordinary,” she said.