A new study published this month has found that New York City’s historic safe consumption centers have helped reduce overdoses.
The study, conducted by researchers affiliated with the NYC Department of Health (which oversees the sites), covered the two months of the program across two different consumption sites.
Last November, then-New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced “that the first publicly recognized Overdose Prevention Center (OPC) services in the nation have commenced in New York City.”
OPCs, the city explained in the announcement, “are safe places where people who use drugs can receive medical care and be connected to treatment and social services.”
NYC officials touted their effectiveness, saying in the press release at the time that such services are “proven to prevent overdose deaths, and are in use in jurisdictions around the world,” and that there “has never been an overdose death in any OPC.”
A study from the city’s Department of Health found that “OPCs in New York City would save up to 130 lives a year.”
“New York City has led the nation’s battle against COVID-19, and the fight to keep our community safe doesn’t stop there. After exhaustive study, we know the right path forward to protect the most vulnerable people in our city. And we will not hesitate to take it,” de Blasio said in the announcement. “Overdose Prevention Centers are a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis. I’m proud to show cities in this country that after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible.”
The study published this month may be seen as vindication for the advocates of the program.
“During the first 2 months of OPC operation, trained staff responded 125 times to mitigate overdose risk. In response to opioid-involved symptoms of overdose, naloxone was administered 19 times and oxygen 35 times, while respiration or blood oxygen levels were monitored 26 times,” the authors wrote. “In response to stimulant-involved symptoms of overdose (also known as overamping), staff intervened 45 times to provide hydration, cooling, and de-escalation as needed. Emergency medical services responded 5 times, and participants were transported to emergency departments 3 times. No fatal overdoses occurred in OPCs or among individuals transported to hospitals.”
“This quality improvement study found that during the first 2 months of operations, services at 2 OPCs in NYC were heavily used, with early data suggesting that supervised consumption in these settings was associated with decreased overdose risk,” they added. “Data also suggested that OPCs were associated with decreased prevalence of public drug use.”
The authors did, however, caution that the findings are “limited by the short study period and lack of a comparison group with individuals not participating in OPC services,” and that additional “evaluation may explore whether OPC services are associated with improved overall health outcomes for participants, as well as neighborhood-level outcomes, including public drug use, improperly discarded syringes, and drug-related crime.”
But the study provides hope to those who are desperate to mitigate an overdose crisis that has become a national epidemic in the United States.
In the announcement of the OPC services last November, NYC officials said that “over 2,000 individuals died of a drug overdose in New York City [in 2020], the highest number since reporting began in 2000,” and that the “Centers for Disease Control projects that across the United States, more than 90,000 individuals died of a drug overdose during 2020, the worst year on record.”
Citing self-reported data, the authors of the new study said that “the drug most commonly used across 2 sites was heroin or fentanyl (73.7%) and the most frequent route of drug administration at the OPC was injection (65.0%).”