With overdose deaths on the rise, Albany lawmakers are considering a bill that would authorize new overdose prevention centers throughout New York state. The centers are modeled on two that opened here in the city last year.

It’s a concept not everyone is comfortable with. Two overdose prevention centers in Manhattan allow addicts to openly use drugs in a safe environment with clean needles. 

What You Need To Know

  • Bill expanding footprint of overdose prevention centers advanced in Albany this week

  • The centers, which allow addicts to use drugs in a safe environment, are designed to prevent overdose deaths

  • 291 overdose interventions have taken place between the two existing centers in Washington Heights and East Harlem

The goal is to prevent overdose deaths, and so far the centers in Washington Heights and East Harlem have intervened and prevented deaths in 291 overdoses. 

“People are seeing, for example, January through June of 2021 in New York state was deadly for thousands of people,” says Democratic Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal. “And 2020 was the hugest number of overdose deaths. And 2021 beat that. And we are only going in that direction. People have finally realized that this is a useful tool.”

This week, a bill in Albany that would authorize additional overdose prevention centers here in the city and around the state cleared a key Assembly committee.

The bill would also allow the centers to be funded with public money. Right now, they must rely on private donations or foundation money.

While critics say taxpayer money should not be used to pay for safe havens for addicts to continue to abuse drugs, supporters of the program say they actually save taxpayer money. 

“When you have an overdose in New York City, or anywhere, but let’s talk about the city,” says Sam Rivera, who runs the prevention centers for On Point NYC, “an ambulance comes, which includes police officers, which includes a visit to the ER. That costs in the thousands, tens of thousands of dollars each time.”

The centers offer an array of services for addicts, with the goal of redirecting their lives, and steering them away from heroin. 

But sources say the bill before lawmakers is facing an uphill climb in the state Senate.

“I am certainly working on a lot of my colleagues,” says bill sponsor state Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx. “There are some folks who are supportive, there are many folks who are considering their support. I do not have a consensus yet in the conference to move the bill forward, but I am working to do that.”

There are only three weeks left in the Albany legislative session. So, if the bill doesn’t move soon, it’s likely going to die for the year, and will have to be reintroduced in January when the new session gets underway.