Just over a year ago, New York City opened the nation’s first “safe injection” sites (SIS) — two taxpayer-funded locations (one in Harlem, the other in Washington Heights) where people can use drugs while overseen by a medic.
Supporters claim that allowing drug addicts to shoot up with clean needles in a supervised setting is the most compassionate way to “reduce negative consequences associated with drug use” They argue these sites will address the nation’s growing addiction crisis, which claimed the lives of 109,000 Americans in 2022 — a 44% increase over 2020.
To the surprise of few who understand these diseases, hardly any the SIS customers — less than 1% — request treatment once they are comfortably able to engage in continued drug use.
The New York Times, Jumaane Williams, Jessica Rojas-Gonzales, NYC Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan and fellow harm reduction advocates praised the launch of the sites and immediately called for more such facilities in every borough. Indeed, the City Council is now requesting $8 million to fund four additional sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.
Yet as has been seen in similar efforts in San Francisco and Vancouver, there is little evidence these sites reduce overall harm to the addict. What is certain, however, is the effect SISs have on the surrounding communities.
People who live near the sites have watched as their neighborhoods have become open-air drug markets where dealers openly sell drugs like ballpark vendors and children step over used syringes on the bus and in their local playground. Unsurprisingly, their complaints have received scant media coverage, nor have their calls to the city adequately addressed.
The problem in NYC, and throughout the country, is that harm reduction advocates — such as NYC Council member Diana Ayala, Gov. Hochul, President Biden and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations — are the only ones allowed to sit at the “success-defining” table. We — the neighbors, the local business owners, the parents, the children, and the taxpayers — rightly deserve a seat at the success-defining table, too.
In Steeb’s case, she led one of Northern California’s largest organizations for homeless women and children—Saint John’s Program for Real Change—for 13 years. During this time, 78% of the thousands of mothers she served struggled with addiction. They needed support in overcoming their disease—not in sustaining it—in order to achieve productivity, employment and the ability to parent.
Harm reduction advocates here in New York claim success is the reversal of 500 overdoses to date. But this sole metric ignores any and all concerns for the tens of thousands of Harlem residents who are experiencing more frequent encounters with drug addicts and dealers every time they leave their homes. Success cannot be the appropriate word to describe a parent witnessing the types of yelling, screaming, unwanted advances and overdoses by emotionally disturbed people now commonplace in Harlem.
An early September video introduces a new but hardly surprising phenomenon: cars showing up from other parts of the country to “camp” on the street near the Harlem East Block safe injection site. A nearby tent includes a young, pregnant, drug-addicted mother living with a man who appears to be her pimp.
Drug dealers likely agree with the harm reduction advocates that the experiment is a success — as they now have unfettered access to a highly motivated, lucrative customer base. But taxpayers are exasperated. They are footing the bill for drug use — as well as Narcan injections to revive people who have overdosed.
They will also be on the hook to fund a proposed “syringe buyback program” that allows drug users to exchange taxpayer-funded syringes for money, thereby billing taxpayers for the same needle twice. Last week, the City Council approved NYC Health Department proposal to establish a permanent needle buyback program intended to kick off in January.
This, of course, is in addition to the existing subsidies such as TANF, General Assistance and Medicaid that taxpayers already provide to this population due to their inability to pass a drug test and work.
Meanwhile, children and adults are exposed daily to destructive behaviors and the perishing of their fellow human beings. What effects will the normalization of drugs such as fentanyl, a deadly poison, have on those who regularly see the posters advocating for intravenous drug use? We accept bans on cigarette use to protect nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke. Why do we allow innocent bystanders to be exposed to the poisonous effects of deadly drugs?
The lose-lose in facilitating hard drug-use is that it results in stagnation, at best. Not only do the addicted lose years of their lives, if not life entirely, our communities also lose their sense of safety as drugs proliferate on the streets. This process is not just harmful, it’s expensive. The two Harlem sites combined have received $3.4M of government funding though the non-profit- OnpointNYC, which claims to rely heavily on private donations.
Rather than investing in lose-lose scenarios, we propose a win-win: expand treatment centers—not safe injection sites; abstain from normalizing the use of poisonous, illegal drugs; and by all means, stop encouraging behavior that leads to more human suffering.