A New York federal prosecutor is facing criticism from activists for his attempt to close down two supervised drug consumption sites in the city. Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, argues that the methods utilized by the two OnPoint NYC sites in Harlem and Washington Heights are illegal, and his office is seeking to crack down on or shut down these facilities. Williams emphasizes that the opioid epidemic is both a law enforcement crisis and a public health crisis, but he asserts that he is an enforcer, not a policymaker. Until these sites receive sanction from New York policymakers, he contends that they are operating in violation of federal, state, and local laws, which he deems unacceptable. In his statement to The New York Times, Williams states that his office is prepared to take enforcement action if the situation does not change promptly.
The strategy employed by OnPoint NYC is straightforward: individuals consume drugs under the supervision of trained staff who can intervene in the event of an overdose. Sam Rivera, the executive director of OnPoint NYC, expressed to The Independent last year that society tends to view drug users as disposable and advocates for putting them in prison. On the contrary, Rivera believes that this fear of the unknown perpetuates this perspective. He emphasizes the importance of intervention, citing the efforts and lives lost by colleagues and loved ones who have fought for this kind of approach because they know it is effective in keeping people alive. He acknowledges that the notion may sound radical, but he asserts that radical methods are often the ones that work.
According to OnPoint NYC, its facilities have successfully reversed over 1000 overdoses since their doors opened a year and a half ago. Activists and non-profit organizations throughout the boroughs have taken to social media to condemn Williams’ comments. The Legal Action Center, a group that provides free legal services in New York City, tweeted that Governor Kathy Hochul must authorize the overdose prevention centers; otherwise, they will remain vulnerable to stigma, NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard), and interferenc. They argue that these factors hinder the crucial work of the centers. The group also emphasizes that there have been zero deaths among those who use OnPoint’s services.
Dr. Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, a neuroscientist at The City College of New York, describes the work of OnPoint as the most humane access to care for individuals who misuse drugs. She highlights that the work carried out at overdose prevention centers is evidence-driven and will result in saved lives and increased accessibility for those in need. Former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio authorized the sites in one of his final acts, recognizing them as a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis.
In conclusion, the New York federal prosecutor’s efforts to close down supervised drug consumption sites have sparked controversy and protest from activists. OnPoint NYC has defended its approach, arguing that it saves lives and provides necessary support for individuals struggling with drug addiction. The conflict highlights the broader debate surrounding drug policies and harm reduction strategies in the United States.