Image copyright The New York Times Image caption New York City’s public health commissioner said the city had become “overwhelmed” by heroin overdoses
New York City has become the first city in the world to regulate the use of heroin and other drugs in safe-injection sites.
The measures were approved by the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, in a vote by the Board of Health.
They will allow drug users to use drug paraphernalia in facilities where medical and counselling help are on offer.
The new laws will also recognise the use of drugs as a way to alleviate distress and distress in society, rather than as a vice.
Since 2003, the city has been running and budgeting for a programme to help the homeless and others using drugs by providing them with treatment and connecting them with doctors and landlords who could provide alternative housing.
That funding was largely used to support programmes at injection sites, which were originally set up in the Netherlands.
What are safe-injection sites?
Under the new New York legislation, site users will still be subject to arrest for drug possession, but it would be a violation to sell or serve drugs at the site.
However, in relation to sharing needles, the charges would be reduced to misdemeanours.
The sites are also designated as a medical clinic, with medical doctors or nurses at the site at all times and where medically needed testing or medical treatment can be provided for drug users.
They will be “facilities to address the concerns of drug use and drug related deaths and the associated need for treatment and social services”, according to the new legislation.
“We did this in New York City and we can’t get in this game unless we do it right, we have to preserve our legal rights to provide them [drugs], which we cannot do in the city at this time,” Commissioner Bassett said at a news conference after the vote.
Is London in the running to get a safe-injection site?
London has a number of treatment providers that provide methadone, methadone replacement therapy and detox services, including the Moxies treatment centre in Clapham, who work with over 600 homeless people and have a 95% success rate.
More than 5,000 drug users are given the necessary support in British drug treatment, prevention and diversion centres, according to estimates by Health Focus, a London charity that supports drug users and their families.
Health Focus has not disclosed figures of how many of those users receive treatment for their addiction, but it does say London was “in the top 10 cities in the world for drug-related death rates”.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Dr Francis Weedon said the new laws will help heroin users and harm reduction
Critics, however, claim the city’s policy is aimed at protecting landlords rather than the users, saying the facility will be able to evict them, noting that they do not have a place to stay once they are “off the clock”.
However, Dr Francis Weedon, of Health Focus, told the BBC that this was an example of harm reduction.
“It’s absolutely [not] about making it easier for landlords, and it’s a great thing that landlords have this choice,” he said.
“It’s about recognising that when a patient is detoxed they are not only receiving a medical operation, but are also leaving the course of their disease.”
He added that the programme gives people “the opportunity to stop using for good”.