A Solution to Overdose Deaths: Peer Supervised Drug Consumption Site

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All it took was one bad day at work. Gregory was four years clean and sober. He had a good job, a car and a 3-bedroom apartment he shared with his fiancé and her 9-year-old daughter. What took him four years to obtain as he remained sober, he lost in a matter of six months.

It was his “worse decision,” Gregory said. “Everything I killed myself to get, gone in a snap. It’s so easy to fall, so hard to get up”

Gregory is a participant at OnPoint NYC Washington Heights Overdose Prevention Center (OPC). He credits the program with saving his life.

OnPoint NYC is a nonprofit offering an array of in-house clinical services, including mental health care services, harm reduction, support with housing, food services, and more. It operates the two overdose prevention centers, commonly known as supervised consumption sites.

Sam Rivera, Executive Director of OnPoint NYC, said the consumption sites allow people to use drugs safely. If there is an overdose, staff and peers can respond quickly and keep them alive.

“They get loved on and get treated like humans,” Sam said.

Since opening 11 months ago, the two sites have had 570 overdose interventions and welcomed 2,000 individuals who are no longer using on the streets, which has resulted in 12,000 fewer syringes found per month in one park alone. Sam said the best stat is zero deaths.

Overdose prevention centers offer a harm reduction model that recognizes that complete abstinence may not be achievable for everyone and focuses on reducing the negative consequences of substance use. By providing a safe and supportive environment, overdose prevention centers aim to reduce the number of overdose deaths and help individuals receive the care and support they need to overcome addiction.

Peers provide support, guidance, and encouragement to individuals who use drugs and can also help identify and respond to overdoses. They also provide education on safe drug use practices and other harm reduction strategies, such as accessing treatment or engaging in safe sex practices.

The peer support harm reduction model is based on the idea that everyone deserves respect, dignity, and access to care, regardless of their substance use habits. It provides a supportive and non-judgmental environment for individuals who use drugs and can help reduce the stigma and isolation that often accompany addiction.

CJ said, “If I wasn’t using here, I would be using somewhere else – the street, the train station. And it’s not good, kids can see you.” Now that OPC is open, people can use safely, and the park is being utilized by other people.

“If we could quit like that, we would,” CJ continued, adding he has been doing drugs since he was 14. He is now 54. “No one wants to be an addict. I want to stop. I don’t know how to.”

Raynette, a former user, now works at OnPoint. She said her peers can relate and they don’t judge you. Point in fact, Raynette experienced a fatal overdose yet kept her job. “That’s harm reduction. I don’t think any other place would let me keep my job,” she said.

Watch our first mini-doc on overdose prevention sites America’s First Supervised Drug Consumption Site: OnPoint NYC 

Watch more Invisible Stories mini-documentaries on homelessness.

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