NEW YORK — Jose Collado settled in at a clean white table in a sunlit room, sang a few bars and injected himself with heroin.
After years of shooting up on streets and rooftops, he was in one of the first two facilities in the country where local officials are allowing illegal drug use in order to make it less deadly.
Equipped and staffed to reverse overdoses, New York City’s new, privately run “overdose prevention centers” are a bold and contested response to a storm tide of opioid overdose deaths nationwide.
Supporters say the sites — also known as safe injection sites or supervised consumption spaces — are humane, realistic responses to the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. Critics see them as illegal and defeatist answers to the harm that drugs wreak on users and communities.
To Collado, 53, the room he uses regularly is simply “a blessing.”
“They always worry about you, and they’re always taking care of you,” he says.
“They make sure that you don’t die,” adds his friend Steve Baez. At 45, he’s come close a couple of times.
In their first three months, the sites in upper Manhattan’s East Harlem and Washington Heights neighborhoods halted more than 150 overdoses during about 9,500 visits — many of them repeat visits from some 800 people in all. The sites are planning to expand to round-the-clock service later this year.
“It’s a loving environment where people can use safely and stay alive,” says Sam Rivera, the executive director of OnPoint NYC, a nonprofit that runs the centers. “We’re showing up for people who too many people view as disposable.”
Supervised drug-consumption sites go back decades in Europe, Australia and Canada. Several U.S. cities and the state of Rhode Island have approved the concept, but no authorized sites were actually operating until New York’s opened in November. The announcement came six weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that a planned Philadelphia site was illegal under a 1986 federal law against running a venue for illicit drug use.
Despite winning the Philadelphia case, the U.S. Justice Department indicated last month it might stop fighting such sites, saying it was evaluating them and discussing “appropriate guardrails.”
New York City’s only Republican in Congress, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, has pressed the Justice Department to shutter what see sees as “heroin shooting galleries that only encourage drug use and deteriorate our quality of life.”
She has proposed to strip federal money from any private group, state or local government that “operates or controls” a safe injection site.
Another New Yorker in Congress, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, …….