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Injection of support: Legislature should sanction overdose prevention centers

With legislation to authorize overdose prevention centers clearing the Assembly’s health committee, grumblings have started again about the facilities’ uncertain legal footing. These grumblings should stop.

The idea that the state government can’t act because the centers technically run afoul of federal law has never made much sense in a state that, like many others, has spent months and expended considerable public resources towards setting up a homegrown cannabis industry, touting it as a revenue generator and justice initiative all while marijuana itself remains a federal Schedule I controlled substance.

We’ve been able to do this because there is an understanding that the feds will allow states to make their own decisions around this issue, and the FBI is not going to be busting the doors of licensed weed shops. There’s no reason to think that the feds would have a radically different posture towards safe injection sites.

In fact, two centers have been operating in Upper Manhattan with the support of City Hall and without incident for well more than a year, with their main issue not being interference from the feds but a lack of adequate funding. That’s driven in large part by the fact that their putatively unsanctioned status makes it more difficult for public and private entities to actually provide funds.

Instead of helping, the state has so far been more of a nuisance, such as when the commissioner of the Office of Addiction Services and Supports disavowed state funding for the sites after they were put forth as an effective strategy to combat drug abuse by the expert-led Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board. We said then that the Legislature should take up the cause, and lawmakers should use the current momentum to get the job done now.

Whatever individual qualms or concerns members might have now about siting or operations, they should keep in mind a few key facts: these centers have prevented every overdose death when allowed to run, and often lead people into longer-term treatment and recovery. Everything else is details.

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