How NYC safe consumption sites could provide a roadmap for SF, as local leaders visit

Tara Campbell Image
Monday, March 6, 2023
SF leaders tour NYC safe consumption sites, which could be roadmap
More than a dozen San Francisco leaders visited New York City to get a look at the country's first sanctioned safe consumption sites.

NEW YORK CITY (KGO) -- In San Francisco's ongoing battle against the drug overdose crisis, more than a dozen local leaders are in New York City to get a look at the country's first sanctioned safe consumption sites.

At Onpoint NYC the pace is fast and the purpose is clear: to save lives and connect drug users to the services they need.

Since opening sites in Harlem and Washington Heights nearly a year and a half ago, the nonprofit's staff has overseen more than 55,000 drug injections or inhalations and reversed more than 700 overdoses. It has also connected more than 2,200 people to treatment.

"We know that an opioid overdose is the central nervous system slowing down, eventually they stop breathing, said Rayce Samuelson, Overdose Prevention Specialist. "Eighty percent of the overdoses all we have to do is put on the oxygen mask connected to one of our oxygen tanks," he explained. "That's really the beauty of the site we're here with people the second the needle goes in the arm, the second the dose is taken. We're able to respond immediately, right away."

RELATED: Are safe consumption sites part of the solution to SF's drug overdose crisis?

These sites provide a place for people to use their drugs under the supervision of a medically-trained professional ready to reverse an overdose. And, more than a dozen of San Francisco's local leaders are taking notes; from city supervisors to the San Francisco Fire Department, The Department of Public Health, and the nonprofits hoping to operate safe consumption sites in San Francisco.

"I think the biggest takeaway is how intentionally everything is done. This is not a fly-by-night operation. This operation is very intentional. It's very skilled and the people here really know what they're doing," said Lydia Bransten, Executive Director of the Gubbio Project.

"We're not in there just letting it happen. We're really tough on how we operate these services," said Sam Rivera, Executive Director of OnPoint NYC.

ABC7 News spoke with a drug user, Sam, who said he feels safer using under supervision.

"It's cocaine mixed with heroin," said Sam.

Tara Campbell: "How often do you come here?"

Sam: "Every day."

Tara Campbell: "If you weren't here where would you be?

Sam: "Umm, basically in a bathroom by myself."

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Another point of interest for the group from San Francisco is what's happening on the streets outside the safe consumption sites and the impact on local neighborhoods.

"What's going on inside is really important and saving lives, but that's not going to work if it's creating a mess outside, said Supervisor Matt Dorsey, noting clean streets and very little open-air drug use.

"One thing this organization running the overdose prevention centers in New York is absolutely committed to is being a good neighbor and a good partner with the New York City Police Department," said Supervisor Dorsey.

"It's clean now, but before there were people everywhere there were needles all over," said Fred a few blocks away from the site in Harlem.

Fred is battling depression and addiction. He says he does access the safe consumption sites and that they've also changed the streets.

"You couldn't go to a park. Kids couldn't go to parks, it was insane, pretty much you could walk over a body," he explained.

RELATED: Bay Area mother calls on Pres. Biden to say 'no' to safe consumption sites

Safe consumption sites are illegal under federal law, but the New York model could provide a path forward. The sites are funded by private donations -- not city dollars -- making the city, in theory, less liable.

Tara Campbell: "Supervisor (Hillary) Ronen, you've seen these centers now in action in New York City how- and do you think - this will move the ball forward in establishing sites in San Francisco?"

Supervisor Ronen: "I do because now we're going back to San Francisco with a whole army of advocates who have seen proof that these sites not only save lives but they improve neighborhood conditions."

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