Written by Lindsay Kalter WebMD Health News
May 17, 2023 – Jose Martinez spent several years unhoused, jobless, and trapped in a cycle of addiction to synthetic marijuana – a lab-created drug that affected his mind and behavior and is dangerous and sometimes deadly.
His life changed when the Bronx, NY, resident began recovery in 2017, which he credits in large part to what is now an overdose prevention site in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood – one of two official so-called safe injection sites in the United States, where people can use illicit drugs under supervision of trained staff to prevent death and illness.
The other is in the city’s Washington Heights neighborhood. At the time, both locations were needle exchanges, which merged and added supervised injection to create OnPoint NYC in 2021.
Though Martinez did not inject drugs, he took advantage of the other resources there, including laundry facilities and showers.
“People can access safer supplies, but also mental health services, and I used those,” said Martinez, 35. “Before that, I tried rehab and detox, and they didn’t work for me. The [site] helped me get there when I was ready.”
I tried rehab and detox, and they didn’t work for me. The [site] helped me get there when I was ready.
Former addict Jose MartinezHe added, “We were a community, like a family.”
The federal government will, for the first time, bankroll a study of how well overdose prevention sites work, according to an announcement on May 8.
A grant of more than $5 million over 4 years will go to New York University and Brown University in Providence, RI, to study 1,000 people at New York’s two sites, along with one set to open in Providence next year.
The announcement comes as deadly overdoses continue to claim lives across the country. There were more than 106,000 overdose deaths in 2021.
The approach is controversial, with critics claiming it enables illegal drug use and brings crime into surrounding areas. But overdose prevention sites already operate in 14 countries, including Canada. There are efforts to open these facilities in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.
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