My name is Mary Brewster, I’m the Managing Director of Integrated Harm Reduction Programs at Harlem United. Today is the first annual New York State Opioid Overdose Awareness Day, led by the NYS Department of Health. In 2020, we lost 93,000 friends, neighbors, family members, and loved ones to fatal overdose across the US, a 30% increase over 2019.
I’ve seen this heartbreaking reality in my day-to-day work in the past year. I’m sure you personally experienced the ripple effects of the pandemic in your own life, and it’s the same for my clients who use drugs. Social isolation pushed many of them to use more and do so alone, which is a dangerous combination that greatly increases the risk for fatal overdose.
At Harlem United, we have always advocated for common sense harm reduction services that prioritize the health, safety, and dignity of people who use drugs, embracing any positive change that moves our clients toward healthier lives. We provide syringe exchange, overdose prevention training, counseling, recovery readiness, and Buprenorphine navigation, performing outreach and meeting clients where they are without judgement or stigma.
Recently, we signed on to a letter to Governor Hochul, urging her to authorize Overdose Prevention Centers (OPC) in New York. OPCs are designated facilities where people can use drugs under the safe supervision of trained personnel.
Over 100 facilities have operated for over 30 years and according to over 100 evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies, OPCs prevent fatal overdose; reduce HIV and hepatitis C transmission and injection-related infection; and reduce public drug use and public disposal of syringes. Contrary to popular belief, OPCs do not increase drug use, crime, or bring drug use into communities. In fact, studies show that OPCs reduce the amount and frequency that clients use drugs and increase entry into substance use disorder treatment.
To end the overdose epidemic, we need evidence-based, accessible harm reduction solutions. I hope you’ll join me and my team in the effort to prevent fatal overdose in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. Please consider donating today – together, we can save lives.
Photo by Erik McGregor