In an effort to combat a rise in fatal narcotics overdoses in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has created a "Heroin and Prescription Opioid Public Awareness Task Force" and pledged to increase the distribution of anti-overdose drugs.
According to the city's figures, 886 New Yorkers died in overdoses in 2015, up from 800 in 2014, with the biggest increase coming in the Bronx.
The mayor's three-year, $5.5 million funding increase would distribute an additional 7,500 nalaxone kits "for community-based organizations serving people at risk for overdose." The initiative also creates a Nonfatal Overdose Response System, ensuring that social workers follow up with non-fatal overdose victims, who are four to five times more likely to die in a subsequent overdose.
The Medical Examiner will also begin testing for fentanyl, the drug that is more powerful than heroin that often produces overdose deaths from addicts who are either unaware that they aren't using heroin, or are seeking something more potent. According to a release from the Mayor's Office, 15% of overdose deaths in 2015 were due to fentanyl, when in previous years the number was 3%.
"Ending stigmatization and providing a path to recovery is vital to keeping New Yorkers healthy and safe," de Blasio said in a release.
Yet one measure not covered in the new funding plan is the supervised injection facility (SIF).
SIFs are considered a safe space for people to inject drugs under the supervision of healthcare workers, and in addition to reducing overdose deaths, SIFs have helped to lower the chance of contracting HIV and hepatitis.
NYC Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health, supports the creation of SIFs.
"There simply has never been a fatal overdose at a supervised injection facility anywhere in the world. Not only that, studies consistently show they reduce the number of deaths in the community and connect people to badly needed healthcare," Johnson said in a release.
“When I was homeless and injecting heroin under the Manhattan Bridge, having a SIF would have stopped me from becoming infected with HIV and given me the help I needed to become well,” Shantae Owens, a member of VOCAL New York and a harm reduction outreach worker on the Lower East Side said in a release.
“I really appreciate the Mayor’s announcement today, which included smart investments in peer programs, research, and harm reduction services, but we have to go a step further and allow SIFs. We have to stop this needless suffering.”