Over 200 Organizations and Individuals Deliver Letter to the Newly Sworn-In Governor
Calling Upon Her To Do What Her Predecessor Would Not:
Allow A Two Year OPC Pilot Program To Begin Immediately and Save New Yorkers’ Lives
August 24th, 2021 -- New York, NY -- Housing Works, a NYC non-profit organization that provides advocacy, support, and lifesaving services to those impacted by homelessness and HIV/AIDS, authored and delivered a letter this morning to newly sworn-in Governor Kathy Hochul, calling upon her to act swiftly and authorize a two-year overdose prevention center (OPC) pilot program across five locations in New York State. 61 community and faith-based organizations and nearly 200 individuals signed, including Albany Damien Center, Alliance for Positive Change, Bailey House, Boom! Health, The Campaign for NY Health, Center for Popular Democracy, Commission on the Public’s Health System, Evergreen Health, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), Harlem United, Henry Street Settlement, Latino Commission on AIDS, New York State Harm Reduction Association, P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), Physicians for a National Health Program - NY Metro, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York (PPGNY), St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction, Treatment Action Group, VOCAL-NY, and many more. Overdose prevention centers are safe, clean spaces where individuals can safely inject or otherwise use pre-obtained drugs with sterile equipment while also gaining access, onsite or by referral, to routine health, mental health, drug treatment and other social services.
Roughly 5,100 New Yorkers statewide died from preventable overdose in 2020, and recent CDC data shows a similar increase nationwide, with over 93,000 people in the United States losing their lives to overdose in 2020, an increase of over 21,000 people (nearly 30 percent) from 2019, making 2020 worst year for overdose deaths on record.
“Over 30,000 New Yorkers died from overdose during Governor Cuomo’s tenure, all while he was touting his progressive accomplishments,” said Charles King, co-founder and CEO of Housing Works. “In 2018 we believed Governor Cuomo would finally sign off on the pilot program, but he walked away from us, and left that many more New Yorkers to struggle with substance use on their own, and many of them to die. We fervently hope Governor Hochul’s leadership will mark a new chapter in the fight to end the overdose crisis in New York State. In this letter, we are calling on her to take action immediately and authorize the pilot program, putting an end to the foolish refusal to do so that we saw from her predecessor, and providing a groundbreaking harm reduction opportunity.”
The proposed overdose prevention center pilot program would enable five existing community-based Syringe Exchange Programs (four in New York City and one in Ithaca) to expand their services to include supervised consumption services. This pilot would be regulated and supervised by the NYS Department of Health’s AIDS Institute with rigorous evaluation by NYU researchers.
There are approximately 120 overdose prevention centers around the world, and numerous studies have shown OPCs to increase substance use disorder treatment, reduce public disorder and public injection, reduce HIV and Hep C risk behaviors, reduce incidence of bacterial infections, significantly reduce incidence of overdose and increase reversal of overdose, as well as increase substance user education and access to medical and social services. A recent ICER report modeled cost-effectiveness for OPCs in six U.S. cities and found medical costs associated with overdose were reduced in all six cities.
The Governor is imbued with the authority to direct the Commissioner of Health to authorize this pilot program, without any action by the legislature. The NYS Constitution provides that “[t]he protection and promotion of the health of the inhabitants of the state are matters of public concern and provision therefore shall be made by the state and by such of its subdivisions”. Analysis by the law firm Ropes and Gray supports the conclusion that the OPC pilot program’s research functions and benefits would fall under these executive and commissioner powers and responsibilities.
About Housing Works
For 30 years, Housing Works has fueled the fight to end HIV and homelessness. Our Thrift Shops and signature events directly benefit our trailblazing work in grassroots activism, healthcare, and housing. Housing Works led the way during the height of the AIDS crisis in New York City, and continues to lead advocacy efforts across the country in support of social justice.