New York City Further Legitimizes Safe Injection Sites Despite Illegality

Required standards have been released by the New York City Department of Health to tighten up the operations of existing safe injection sites and any to come. 

According to a Route-Fifty article, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has taken another step to legitimize and regulate safe injection sites across the city. With two locations currently in operation, the new regulations would apply to those facilities and any additional programs that come online. Although these sites are technically illegal in federal and state law, these new standards have come out at time when the federal government, according to Route-Fifty, has chosen not to sue New York City over the sites currently operating. For comparison, the regulation and sale of cannabis is also considered to be illegal on the federal level.

The regulations came out after U.S. Attorney Damian Williams shared in August that his office is, “prepared to exercise all options – including enforcement – if this situation does not change in short order.” These new standards require a number of things outlined in the 16-page document, but since they are not legal locations, some basic licenses and permits do not apply. For instance, routine inspections are not mandated for locations that are not regulated, potentially calling into question the need for a state law in lieu of looking the other way.

It is unclear whether these are the types of changes that could stave off legal action as referenced by U.S. Attorney Williams. These new standards are also coming at a time when the city is still in the wake of the worst year for overdoses on record since 2000.

A total of 3,026 people died from an overdose in 2022, the highest number since the city began reporting such deaths in 2000 and a 12% increase compared to 2021.

Maryland legislators considered a bill during the 2023 legislative session that would have legalized these sites in state law, which is what the New York legislature has failed to do thus far. New York is in company with the vast majority of other states that are not willing yet to take this next step. MACo did not weigh in on this bill, HB 953, which would have, among other things, allowed community-based organizations to open up to six centers in non-residential areas where health professionals can monitor users, give first aid, and provide sterile needles. The centers would also collect used supplies, provide proper disposal, and be distributed equally in urban, rural and suburban areas.

HB 953, which did not pass, had 56 sponsors across the House and Senate, and saw additional testimony from 64 entities. Proponents of the sites will proclaim that these locations save lives and filter users in to recovery services, while opponents claim data has not shown these sites are increasing admittance to recovery services. The coming months could bring more discussion over the bills future and likelihood of revival in the 2024 legislative session.