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Safe-injection site activists arrested after blocking New York governor's office

Lauren Aratani/The Guardian


Originally Published: 08/29/2019

Post Date: 08/29/2019

Source Publication: Click here

by The Guardian


New York City social justice activists protestin New York supporting safe drug injection sites blocked the entrance of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s building. 


Protesters in New York supporting safe drug injection sites blocked the entrance of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s building. 

Thirteen activists supporting safe drug injection sites were arrested Wednesday afternoon for barricading the entrance of New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s office building.

About 200 other drug safety advocates marched in front of the building in Manhattan in an attempt to pressure Cuomo to support the opening of safe injection sites in New York City – a plan that has been waiting for the governor’s approval since May 2018.

There are an estimated 100 safe injection sites around the world, including in Europe, Canada and Australia. Though research on the effectiveness of safe injection sites is slim, cities such as Vancouver that have opened clinics have cited successes in decreasing overdose-related deaths and getting more people to addiction treatment. Advocates also say the sites reduce the spread of HIV and other diseases.

Yet despite pushes from cities including San Francisco, Seattle and Denver, no safe injection sites have opened in the United States, in large part thanks to relentless federal opposition.

A messy legal battle is still brewing in court after Safehouse, an overdose prevention not-for-profit, was sued by federal prosecutors after trying to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia. The former US attorney general Rod Rosenstein wrote in a New York Times op-ed arguing that the sites can “create serious public safety risks” by giving people “a taxpayer-sponsored haven to shoot up”.

But safe injection site advocates argue that people are using illegal drugs anyway, whether they have a safe place to do it or not.

“These people are going to use it whether you want them to use it in a safe space or not,” said Kimberly Sue, a medical director of the Harm Reduction Coalition in New York. “The alternative is that people are using it in McDonalds and dying. The alternative is a Starbucks opens up in your neighborhood, and a Starbucks worker is traumatized because someone is blue and dead (from overdose) in there … It’s a preventable tragedy.”

New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, released a plan in May 2018 to open four sites, funded and operated by not-for-profits, after the city completed its $100,000 study weighing the pros and cons of such facilities. The plan has yet to receive approval.

“We have been in active dialogue with advocates and the city on the proposal while addressing potential law enforcement concerns and the threat of legal challenges. Above all, our priority is protecting the lives of New Yorkers,” said Jonah Bruno, a spokesperson for the state’s department of health.

Asia Betancourt, another activist at the protest, said that she believes the safe injection sites could have helped her brother, who died from an overdose in 2009.

“My brother died behind an opioid epidemic. Being stigmatized whenever he went to rehab, he was treated less than human. Eventually, he went to the streets and never went back.