New York Approves Bill Legalizing Overdose Prevention Center

A New York Senate committee passed a bill authorizing the establishment of a state-sanctioned overdose prevention center (or OPC, also referred to as supervised consumption sites or safer consumption spaces). Safer consumption spaces are supervised places to use illegal drugs under medical supervision. The legislation, Senate Bill S399A (the enactment of the Safer Consumption Services Act, or SCSA), would require the New York State Department of Health to authorize at least one supervised consumption site. While OPCs already exist, this bill will make it easier for harm reduction workers to do their jobs and solidify the work that is already happening. 

New York City opened the first city-authorized safe consumption sites in late 2021. The advancing legislation will provide a sterile environment for people to use pre-obtained substances (they won’t provide you with any), giving them a safe alternative to bathrooms or other sites frequented. In addition, the prevention center will also keep medical workers on site to ensure folks are administering the drug more safely. Such sites also offer protection that’s not available when using the drug in a non-monitored establishment, as medical workers will be there to treat any overdoses properly. Naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses will be at the safer consumption site. On-site workers will also educate participants on safer consumption practices and information on treatment. While the site can collect aggregate data on its participants and their experiences, participants and the staff at the safer consumption site will have immunity from prosecution for the sanctioned activities. 

For some history, in 2015, IDUHA (the Injection Drug Users Health Alliance) released a memo essentially directing Harm Reduction agencies to act on the assumption that people using their bathrooms would likely be using opioids and therefore be at risk of overdose, a New York City harm reduction worker explains to High Times. However, most agencies have a policy wherein anyone using the bathroom gets a knock on the door every few minutes, and staff can access the bathroom and provide overdose support (including naloxone and rescue breaths and contacting EMS) when the occupant is unresponsive. “On average, my team responds to one overdose a month in our bathroom, with several utilizations a day not resulting in overdose. We have to wait for someone to stop breathing and stop responding to a knock at the door, at which point they may have been not breathing for several minutes,” our source says. “The SCSA is an important bill because it acknowledges work that is already happening—harm reduction workers and people who use drugs and their peers are already on the front lines of the overdose crisis.” 

The Senate Health Committee passed the harm reduction legislation from Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D) in a voice vote on Tuesday, and it will now go to the Finance Committee for consideration. The Assembly companion version of SCSA, sponsored by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D), cleared the chamber’s Health Committee in March.

“Harm reduction works. Harm reduction is a modality—a way to approach dealing with an issue which assumes, first, that a person who uses drugs is a person, and that they have to be met where they are,” Rivera said at the hearing. “Fact number two, criminalization has not worked.”

“Over decades of the drug war, it is pretty clear that we have lost said war,” he continues. “The notion that we could arrest our way out of addiction—that we could arrest our way out of overdoses and deaths—has been proven to be a lie based on all of these years of experience. Criminalization does not work.”

It marks a milestone in harm reduction history. “Today, the Senate recognized the dire situation New York is in because of the overdose crisis and failed War on Drugs era policies,” the advocacy group VOCAL-NY said in a press release on Tuesday. “New York is one step closer to seeing Overdose Prevention Centers authorized across the state,” the group’s Users Union leaders elaborated. “The legislature needs to keep the momentum and pass the Safe Consumption Services Act out of both houses by the end of session.”

However, the New York City harm reduction worker High Times spoke with explains that this bill may be simply securing what already exists, thanks to the hard work of passionate harm reduction groups. “Every OPC will be placed in already existing harm reduction agencies. In a very real way, the bill will not change much. Last week I went to Albany with a cohort of workers and participants at VOCAL-NY, Housing Works, and OnPoint to speak to legislators who had not signed on yet. When we met with [New York State Senator] Tim Kennedy’s legislative director, I told her: we are already doing this, but because we can’t acknowledge it, we have to keep the bathroom door closed. Let us leave the door open—that’s all we’re asking.”

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U.S. Overdose Deaths Total Record 107,000 Last Year

The tainted drug supply in the United States continues to exact a grim toll as overdose deaths exceeded 107,000 in 2021, according to an estimate released on Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a statement that the most recent overdose numbers are “truly staggering.”

The CDC estimate exceeds the previous record for the number of overdose deaths set in 2020 by 15% and represents the equivalent of a death caused by drug overdose in the United States approximately every five seconds. The new record continues a trend of an increasing number of overdose deaths that has plagued the nation for more than twenty years, largely fueled by the nationwide opioid epidemic.

Deaths Involving Synthetic Opioids Also Up

Last year, the number of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids surpassed 71,000, a 23% increase over 2020. Deaths involving cocaine also increased by 23%, while deaths involving methamphetamine and other stimulants rose by 34%.

Fentanyl is often used by illicit manufacturers in counterfeit prescription opioids, making the drugs’ dosage and risk of overdose uncertain. CDC officials also noted that other drugs are often cut with fentanyl by unscrupulous dealers, who often leave their customers unaware of the danger.

“The net effect is that we have many more people, including those who use drugs occasionally and even adolescents, exposed to these potent substances that can cause someone to overdose even with a relatively small exposure,” Volkow said, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times.

The nation’s epidemic of overdose deaths continued to rise last year as the coronavirus pandemic isolated those with drug problems and made effective substance misuse treatment and mental health services more difficult to access. Keith Humphreys, an addiction and drug policy researcher at Stanford University, believes that the deadly trend is likely to continue.

“2022 will probably be as horrible as 2021 was, quite possibly worse,” Humphreys told the Washington Post.

The rise in overdose deaths last year varied geographically. Alaska saw the biggest jump in deaths with an increase of 75%, while Hawaii saw a 2% reduction in deaths caused by drug overdoses.

Humphreys said that the United States is likely to see more than a million overdose deaths in the span of a decade without substantive public policy changes. He also noted that the rise of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl will also continue because they can be produced in a lab more easily than traditional plant-based drugs can be grown. The ramifications of the readily available drugs, which can easily be bought through social media apps and other online platforms, remain to be seen.

“There may not be much heroin around in 10 years because everything is fentanyl,” Humphreys said. “What do you do in a world where no one needs a farm anymore to make drugs?”

Harm Reduction Saves Lives

Humphreys said that a single solution will not be the answer to the nation’s epidemic of drug overdoses. But harm reduction measures including increasing access to the drug naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose, can help reduce the death toll.

“I think of naloxone like I do fire extinguishers,” he said. “Generally, they sit on a wall and they’re not needed. But when there’s a fire, there’s nothing like a fire extinguisher.”

Drug policy advocates including Sheila Vakharia, deputy director of research and academic engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, expressed dismay at Wednesday’s news from the CDC.

“It’s absolutely devastating and heartbreaking that we continue to remain in this position,” Vakharia told NPR. “We are over 20 years in this overdose crisis and there’s no sign of any kind of slowing down of deaths. If anything, things have only seemed to have gotten more dire.”

Last month, the Biden administration announced a plan to address the rising number of overdose deaths, which includes support for harm reduction methods including increased access to naloxone. The new funding is a positive sign from the federal government, according to Vakharia.

“Harm reduction has historically been incredibly underfunded and has been relegated to state and local funding or private funding to sustain itself,” she said.

Vakharia noted that much more can be done to increase harm reduction programs, including support for overdose prevention centers like the one that opened in New York City late last year. Despite the success of the centers internationally, there are only “two legally operating above-the-ground harm reduction overdose prevention centers in the country,” when they could be saving lives across the nation with more support.

“And so I think that all of our efforts moving forward can definitely be further enhanced, can be further amplified and further ramped up,” Vakharia added.

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The Power of Healing Herb: An Honest Look at the Benefits of Marijuana Maintenance

The road to sobriety looks different for each individual traveling it. For some, reaching a healthy state of mind requires refraining from substance altogether. But for many, the use of cannabis provides a welcome bridge to addiction-free living. Marijuana maintenance is the theory that those struggling with addiction and detox can use herb to safely […]

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Sex Addiction and its treatment with Cannabis

If you read this article and start to feel like you might have an issue, go talk to your doctor. Ask a professional. If you do have a sex addiction, hear about your reality and options from a doctor. Do not diagnose yourself or choose a course of action based on this article. It is […]

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FAA May Start To Require Anti-Overdose Medication Supply On Airplanes

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is considering a proposal that would require commercial airlines to carry a supply of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone on passenger aircraft. Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island urged FAA Administrator Steve Dickson in a letter to implement the rule after reports that a passenger died of an opioid overdose on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles in July.

“I think the airlines need to be prepared for any type of emergency,” Langevin said of the proposal.

“As opioid overdoses continue to claim thousands of lives each year, we must ensure access to life-saving treatments both on the ground and in the air,” said Langevin in a press release. “Despite incidents of airline passengers suffering opioid-induced overdoses, drugs like naloxone are not currently required on board passenger aircraft. I am pleased the FAA shares my concerns on this issue and is working to include overdose reversal drugs in emergency medical kits on board airlines going forward.”

FAA Review of Airplane Medical Kits Underway

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 required the FAA to evaluate modifications to the equipment required for emergency medical kits carried on commercial aircraft. As part of the review, the FAA requested the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) to study current requirements. AsMA recommended that medical kits be updated to include opioid overdose reversal drugs, and the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine has agreed with that finding.

Dickson said in a letter replying to Langevin that the agency was considering how to best implement the recommendation that naloxone being included in the emergency medical kits carried aboard passenger airliners. Before issuing a new rule, the FAA will study the cost and other impacts of a requirement to carry naloxone on air carriers, including training aircraft employees on the use of the overdose reversal kits in an emergency situation.

Flight Attendants Support Proposed Rule

The proposed rule requiring air carriers to include a supply of naloxone in emergency medical kits is supported by the union representing flight attendants. Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, applauded federal regulators for pursuing the matter.

“We’re thrilled the FAA has agreed that responding to opioid overdoses with life-saving medication, like naloxone, is essential and should be included in emergency medical kits,” said Nelson. “This issue is a priority for AFA, as passenger medical emergencies have and will continue to include opioid overdoses. We look forward to working with the FAA to get this implemented as soon as possible.”

Since 1999, more than 400,000 people have died of an opioid-related overdose in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, more than two-thirds of the nation’s 70,200 drug overdose deaths involved an opioid.

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No Documented Canadian Cases of Cannabis Laced With Opioids: Ontario Harm Reduction Network

Despite the discovery of a “product resembling cannabis” that was actually carfentanil, there are no documented cases of opioids being found in marijuana in Canada, according to the Ontario Harm Reduction Network (OHRN). Some public health organizations and police forces have issued the warnings after the substance — which, despite looking like cannabis from a distance, actually contains no marijuana — was discovered in southern Ontario. However, Thunder Bay Drug Strategy coodinator Cynthia Olsen said…