In 2014, New York City saw more deaths by heroin overdose than it did by murder. And it’s left officials wondering what we could do to help lower the number. Just yesterday, New York State Assemblymember — and fellow Upper West Sider — Linda Rosenthal, announced she plans to introduce legislation to make safe injection sites a possibility state-wide. I spoke with the Assemblymember and asked her how they might work.
ROSENTHAL 1: I mean, the ideal model would have access to mental health services, to detox services, there would be nurses, doctors, professionals in detox and in addiction medicine. All of that. Whatever people who are dependent on opioids for their existence, they would have access to treatment so they could, you know, go back to a normal life.
BROCKWAY 1: Some people have been saying, couldn’t this be seen as enabling illegal drug use, you know, in a similar way, um, it’s like parents of high school students saying, “if you’re going to drink, I’d rather you do it at home?”
ROSENTHAL 2: Well, you know, people say that giving out condoms encourages sexual behavior. And it’s the same thought. Kids are going to have sex whether they have a condom or not. So, having access to condoms won’t cause them to have sex, it’ll cause them to have safe sex. It’s the same thing, um, with people who are addicted. I mean, getting a fix is the most important thing in their lives. So, they’re going to do it anyway. So why not take a humane, compassionate approach to this addiction, which is a disease, and give them a place to do it where they can have access to trained medical staff.
BROCKWAY 2: Sure. And obviously, you know, we saw heroin deaths increase so heavily in 2014 and it’s become an increasingly widespread issue in New York City. And one of the DEA agents, James Hunt, was quoted the other day saying that heroin use is quote, “no longer a ghetto drug–”
ROSENTHAL 3: Well, you know, that is the truth, but it’s also part of a long standing issue and problem. That when there was a crack cocaine epidemic in the poor neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods, the attitude was, “Let’s throw these people in jail. You’re just a plain criminal. And we’ll throw you in jail and keep you there forever.” Now, this has become a widespread epidemic hitting people of all demographics. And so the attitude has shifted to, “instead of you’re all criminals, well, you all need some and treatment.” So, too bad it didn’t happen decades ago. But we’re going to take advantage of this moment and ensure that everyone, including those in poor, minority neighborhoods have access to the best treatment.
BROCKWAY 3: You know, today is Nancy Reagan’s funeral. And the former first lady was a crusader in–
ROSENTHAL 4: “Just say no,” right?
BROCKWAY 4: Right, so how this perception of drug use — heroin specifically — changed since then?
ROSENTHAL 5: Well, you know, when she passed away and I heard the news, that’s the first thing I thought of. I was like, “just say no doesn’t work!” It doesn’t work when you’re sitting in front of a piece of chocolate cake, nor does it work if you’re addicted to opioids or to any other kind of drugs that, you know, take hold of your brain and doesn’t let go. And so this is just is just a new more comprehensive, more rational, more health and behavior based way of looking at the problem.
BROCKWAY 5: And then, I guess, just looking forward, um, what’s left to do to make this happen? Who needs to get involved and who needs to sign off?
ROSENTHAL 6: You know, this is sea-change in how the state– or any state– would look at tackling the heroine crisis. And so there’s a lot of education to be done. There’s a lot of collaboration with partners across the spectrum. And, um, that’s what I plan to do this session.
BROCKWAY 6: Great, well, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, thank you so much for joining us today.
ROSENTHAL 7: Thanks for having me.