ALBANY -- A group of health care professionals, public health experts and advocates believe one answer to New York’s opioid epidemic could be safer consumption spaces, which allow drug users to get high in a secure, supervised location.
“Spaces where people can bring in drugs that they've already procured and they can consume them with the supervision of both health care professionals, access to resources,” said Keith Brown, Director of Health and Harm Reduction at the Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice.
Brown and other supporters said the spaces offer drug users much more than just a place to satisfy their habit.
“They can also access services land resources that are available like treatment, like housing,” Brown said. “Right. Like support, while also driving down disease, reducing overdoses.”
Legal safer consumption spaces exist in more than 60 cities in Europe and Canada.
However, none exist in the United States.
Seattle recently approved legislation to build the first safer consumption space in the U.S. but they remain illegal in all other states, including New York.
More than 100 New York City healthcare professionals signed a petition to change that last week as part of a statewide campaign to promote the idea in areas like the Capital Region, which is already seeing opposition to it.
“People said, well they're not condoning it,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple. “Well you are condoning it. You know they're in there and you're turning your head.”
Apple also said the sites will not stop people from doing illegal drugs.
“I don't think allowing people to go in there is the right thing to do because they're just going to continue to fuel their habit and feed their habit and I just have a hard time with that,” he said.
“I don't think they're going to go to those places anyway,” said Cody Witbeck of Knox, NY. “If they're available, most drug addicts are going to do it right then and there.”
Supporters and critics agree there is no easy answer to such a difficult problem.
“How are they going to treat that,” said Aden Matthews of Scotia. “Are they going to wean them off of it? Are they going to keep them supplied with it?”
“We still have people who are injecting in public,” Brown said. "We still have people who are homeless and don't have a safe place to use. Right?”
Seattle may be the location of the country's first safe consumption space but the idea is becoming more popular in other states like Maryland, Vermont and California.
The SAFE SHAPE tour, which raises awareness about the issue, visited the capital region last week and will continue in other parts of the state this week.