Protesters Demand Safe Consumption Sites in New York

UPDATE: A spokesperson from Mayor de Blasio’s office responded with the following quote:

“This Administration is committed to using every proven tool to stop the opioid overdose epidemic in its tracks and connect those who need it to treatment. Evidence shows Overdose Prevention Centers saves lives, and we continue working with the State and community partners to fully explore the implementation of this life-saving pilot program in our city.”

HOST INTRO: Protesters gathered on the steps of City Hall today to demand safe consumption spaces in New York. Those are places where addicts can go to take their drugs in a safe environment. A year ago, Mayor de Blasio said he supported the idea. But as Alex Colletta reports, protestors say he’s done nothing since.

ACT: What do we want? Safe consumption! What do we want? Safe consumption! What do we want? Safe consumption! And when do we want it? When do we want it? Now! When do we want it? Now! (0:10)

A crowd of about seventy lined the steps of City Hall. They held a large banner that said “Governor, While you wait, people die.” Others held signs that say “End Overdose Now” and “How Many More Have to Die?”

ACT: And if we don’t get it? Shut it down! If we don’t get it? Shut it down! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!

Protestors are trying to bring attention to what they say is an urgent need: providing safe spaces for addicts to take drugs under the supervision of trained professionals. New York already has a syringe exchange program, but the people here say that’s not enough.

Ken Robinson is the Executive Director of Research for a Safer New York.

ROBINSON: All we’re asking is that, instead of giving people a clean syringe and sending them out the door, that we be allowed to also in addition to giving them a clean syringe, letting them have a safe place to consume their drugs under supervision so they won’t die of an overdose. (0:16)

Protestors say they thought they had a commitment from both the governor and the mayor for a pilot project—a program that would place five overdose prevention sites throughout the state. Four in New York City and one in Ithica.

Here’s Mayor de Blasio a year ago speaking about the program on WNYC.

DE BLASIO: We lose people in theirhomes, in their basements, in the bathroom of a Mcdonald’s or a Starbucks alone with no help that can’t go on and overdose prevention centers give us a chance to actually change that. Now there’s real challenging work to be done. So we created this notion on a one year basis as a pilot program. As a research study.

Robinson says they got a promise from Governor Cuomo, too.

ROBINSON: He was fully in support of this and then he just went away.

Will Robertson is with Vocal New York, a community advocacy group. He compared a safe consumption site to a bar, where someone’s looking after you.

ROBERTSON: When you get drunk at a bar, they give you coffee or take your keys so you cannot drive home. That’s what a safe consumption site is.

Safe consumption sites have been controversial across the country. President Trump has come out opposing them, and earlier this year, a US attorney filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop a drug injection site in Pennsylvania. The suit also asks the judge to make these sites illegal under federal law.

COLLETTA: What about the communities, do you think they’ll be skeptical?

ROBINSON: You put a church in a community, and they’ll be skeptical. So we’ll have a lot of community work to do.

But before advocates even have a chance to convince the community that these sites are a good idea, they say they need legislators to live up to their promises of support.

CUOMO LIES, PEOPLE DIE.

We reached out for comment from the governor and the mayor. They have not yet responded to our request.

Alex Colletta, Columbia Radio News.

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