The state plans to increase the number of sites where drug addicts can score clean needles as the opioid crisis rages, according to new “emergency” regulations approved by the Cuomo administration.
The so-called “Secondary Syringe Exchange” program — which strives to curb the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other blood-borne illnesses — allows new satellite needle exchange centers to pop up in hard-to-reach and rural parts of the state, according to the New York State Register.
The syringe stations help junkies who live too far from the state’s current 24 exchange sites trade dirty syringes for clean ones on the state’s dime, health officials said.
Under the new rules, which quietly went into effect on Nov. 12, more facilities — such as LGBTQ centers, local government health departments, and sexually transmitted disease clinics — can apply to offer the service.
“By providing additional access to sterile syringes in settings in which opioid overdoses can be minimized, this regulation will reduce the number of opioid overdoses and deaths,” the State Health department said in a statement supporting the regulation. “[It will] improve the health of individuals who inject drugs, and their communities.”
But the new regulations make no mention of how officials plan to keep drug addicts from congregating near the sites — and are likely to draw the ire of neighbors who fear their backyards will become the next “Needle Park.”
The state Health Department will foot the bill to provide the new sites with syringes, containers to dispose of dirty needles and syringes, alcohol pads and non-latex gloves for an estimated cost of $250,000.
In its statement of support for the program, health officials cited the opioid epidemic as reason to increase the number of facilities.
They also warned about a spike in HIV rates linked to shooting up in surrounding states such as Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts — which have recently reported increases in HIV transmission due to dirty syringes.
n New York, residents who died from overdoses liked to opioids has tripled — from 1,074 in 2010 to 3,224 in 2017, officials said.
“Given the impact of the opioid epidemic in New York,” the department said, “a similar situation could occur in this state.”
“Having a second-tier of programs authorized to furnish syringes will more comprehensively address the needs of persons who inject drugs, particularly in areas where there are no [needle exchanges.]” officials said.
Under current law, State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has the sole power “to authorize persons to legally obtain and possess hypodermic syringes and hypodermic needles.”
Meanwhile, there are 3,385 pharmacies statewide that participate in an “expanded syringe access program,” which allows the businesses to hang signs advertising that customers can buy syringes without a prescription.
Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to open four supervised injection facilities — but it was never approved by the state.
The sites were slated to open as one-year trial programs at existing needle exchange centers in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, Midtown West and Washington Heights in Manhattan, and Longwood in the Bronx.
But during testimony on the state budget in February, Zucker, the state health commissioner, expressed concerns that the Trump administration could “mount a legal challenge” to the shooting galleries.
The new rules don’t address de Blasio’s plan for supervised injection facilities as part of syringe exchange, a health department official.
The mayor’s office said Friday that it supported the program.
“With over 100,000 naloxone kits distributed to date, and unprecedented investments in outreach and prevention resources, the City is working tirelessly to connect more New Yorkers with the treatments and resources they need to fight addiction. As we continue to see an unprecedented spike in opioid usage across the United States, we welcome any and all assistance from our partners on the state level,” it said in a statement.
State officials said applicants must show support from the surrounding neighborhood in order to be awarded a license to operate one of the new syringe facilities. Concerns have long been raised by opponents that syringe programs encourage illicit drug use.
But the US Centers for Disease Control said research finds that addicts who go to needle/syringe exchange programs are five times more likely to enter treatment and stop injecting drugs than those who don’t use them. The programs reduce the presence of dirty needles in the community, do not increase illegal drug use or crime and cut medical costs by curbing more expensive treatment of infections.
In 2017, there were more than 47,000 death nationwide linked to opioid overdoses.
Additional reporting by Natalie O’Neill