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NYers Dying While Cuomo Drags Feet On Heroin Sites, Activists Say

Patch logo Patch 11/26/2018 Noah Manskar
a group of people standing in front of a crowd © Provided by Planck, LLC, d/b/a Patch Media

MIDTOWN MANHATTAN, NY — New Yorkers are still dying from drug overdoses while Gov. Andrew Cuomo leaves plans for heroin injection facilities in limbo, protesters argued Monday. About 30 activists blocked a bus lane outside Cuomo's Third Avenue office while urging the governor to clear the way for so-called safe consumption sites, which they say have been proven to save lives.

The crowd of advocates from groups such as VOCAL-NY, the Harm Reduction Coalition and Prescription Addiction Intervention Now admonished Cuomo in front of a tent meant to represent a safe consumption room.

"He hasn’t got off his behind yet," said Nilda Pointer of The Bronx, a VOCAL-NY community leader who said she survived three opioid overdoses herself.

"I know he walks around every day and see(s) people overdosing — trains, street corners, train station, anywhere," she added. "I know he sees it."

After persistent pressure from activists, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans in May to open four safe consumption sites in Brooklyn, Manhattan and The Bronx where drug users could shoot up under the supervision of trained staff.

The plans are still awaiting approval from the state more than six months later. Advocates say it's been too long a wait for a proven weapon in the fight against overdose deaths that can also connect drug users to other health care and recovery resources.

"It's not a place for people to just go and use," said Hiawatha Collins, a VOCAL-NY board member and leader. "It's a place that people go to get access to treatment and care."

Safe consumption sites have opened in several other countries, including Canada, but none are operating in the United States. Officials in upstate Ithaca have also reportedly proposed opening sites there.

The sites would give drug users a place to "open up on their own terms" and get more help if they're ready to get clean, said Pointer, who said she has seen many friends and family members die of overdoses.

"A lot of ... the reason people use is because they’re going through a problem that they went through growing up, and they haven’t found a way to release that pain they going through, that anger they going through," she said.

Drug overdoses killed nearly 1,500 people in New York City last year, and an opioid was involved in more than 80 percent of those deaths, according to city figures.

During his re-election campaign, Cuomo, a Democrat, expressed openness to the facilities, but said they are "very controversial" and "very complicated." The sites are opposed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has said they would violate the Controlled Substances Act, a federal drug law.

"It’s something we have the Department of Health working on in concert with New York City," Cuomo said last month during a gubernatorial debate.

But activists accused the governor of waiting until the right political moment to make a crucial decision about an urgently needed resource.

"He probably just won’t say anything for a while. It’s necessary to put pressure on him," said Nan Goldin, an artist who founded Prescription Addiction Intervention Now and was previously addicted to the opioid painkiller OxyContin.

The protesters at some points directly addressed Cuomo, who was in New York City on Monday, according to his public schedule.

The governor's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But the activists made clear he hadn't heard the last of them.

"We'll be back," they chanted at the end of the rally.

(Lead image: Activists rallied outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Midtown Manhattan office Monday to pressure him to clear the way for safe consumption sites for drug users. Photo by Noah Manskar/Patch)

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