Washington Heights Residents Concerned about Drug Injection Sites

Roberta, who has lived in Washington Heights for 30 years, is concerned about the possible opening of supervised drug injection sites. (Photo via El Diario)

Roberta, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in Washington Heights for 30 years and who chose to withhold her last name, is still in shock after learning that, earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed opening supervised drug injection sites in different areas of the city, including Upper Manhattan.

“I don’t understand why the government wants to invest money on that,” said the owner of a fast food business on 182nd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. “This drug problem is solved by adding more rehabilitation centers, not more places to shoot up.”

Roberta is one of a growing group of residents worried about de Blasio’s proposal, which seeks to create centers where opioid and heroin addicts may inject drugs under supervision to prevent them from dying from an overdose on the street.

“We have enough with the shelters and the people shooting up around this area. Imagine what it will be like with a center such as that one,” she said. “It will be horribly unsafe.”

She added that the idea is only a temporary remedy for a problem requiring large-scale solutions. “These are just a band-aid that may result in even worse problems for our area.”

A few blocks away, William Pierchi, who was born in Puerto Rico but has lived a large part of his life in New York, said that these sites could end up empty.

William Pierchi, a resident of Washington Heights. (Photo via El Diario)

“It doesn’t matter how many centers they open, [addicts] will probably not go for fear of being arrested by the police,” said Pierchi, who was addicted to several drugs for almost 25 years. “I tell you from experience: Quitting drugs is a personal decision.”

For his part, Council member Ydanis Rodríguez, who represents Upper Manhattan, said that his priority is listening to the residents’ opinions and protecting their quality of life.

“We need to consider in this process whether locating the overdose prevention centers in our community would be appropriate,” said Rodríguez. “The rise in the use and abuse of opioids is a national epidemic that, unfortunately, is affecting our communities.”

The council member said that the decision needs to benefit both the people receiving the service and the residents of the area, “particularly given our experience with similar sites in our district.”

Supervised drug injection is already being offered at places such as the Washington Heights CORNER Project (WHCP), a community health center working with people addicted to drugs such as fentanyl and heroin. They also provide educational resources on the risks of using drugs.

Public hearings will be held

Taking into account the concerns of the community, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that there would be a strong police presence around the centers to guarantee security.

“We will not tolerate quality of life abuses, we will not tolerate drug trafficking in any area near these centers, and we will not tolerate anything that could make the neighborhoods unacceptable for neighboring residents,” said the mayor.

De Blasio added that communication with the community is crucial to the project. “That is why we have a public process in place for each of these sites, a 6-to-12-month process to do it right,” he explained.

Finally, the mayor clarified that he still needs the approval of the Department of Health; the district attorneys of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn; the council members representing the districts where the facilities would be located; and of a community advisory board that will be created with the purpose of collecting feedback.

As part of a one-year pilot program, the centers would open in four points across the city: Gowanus (Brooklyn), Midtown West (Manhattan), Washington Heights (Manhattan) and Longwood (Bronx).

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Addicted people would go to these so-called overdose prevention centers to inject drugs in a safe and supervised manner. They would be provided paraphernalia to prepare heroin doses and needles. To prevent overdoses, trained personnel would monitor users (…)

The purpose of this measure is to reduce the number of deaths by overdose from opioid use in the city, which last year totaled 1,441, an increase from the 1,374 cases reported in 2016. According to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) this is higher than the number of traffic accident, homicide and suicide fatalities in the same period, combined.

(…) The measure seeks to discourage addicts from using drugs in public restrooms. (…)

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