Saving Lives Through the Nation’s First Overdose Prevention Centers
Special Projects Fund
June 15, 2022
Overdoses are at a crisis level in New York City, mirroring national trends. Two thousand City residents died of overdose in 2020—a staggering average of 12 people per day and the highest number recorded since reporting began in 2000.
New York City has a history of embracing high-risk, high-reward strategies to address public health crises. The City is taking the step to reverse the opioid epidemic by opening Overdose Prevention Centers (OPCs)—safe, hygienic spaces where people can use drugs under the supervision of trained professionals to prevent deaths and get connected to care and drug treatment. In November 2021, OnPoint NYC made history by becoming the first organization in the country to open two government-sanctioned OPCs in East Harlem and Washington Heights, supported by City leaders, including the mayor. Despite their proven global success, the legal status of OPCs in the United States is precarious, and State and federal action is needed to explicitly legalize OPCs and open up pathways for reimbursement and expansion. While government agencies and the law catch up, a consortium of private funders is stepping up to keep the centers running and to advocate for policy change. In 2022, NYHealth awarded OnPoint NYC a grant to support its groundbreaking overdose prevention centers to save lives and curb the opioid epidemic.
Under this grant, OnPoint NYC will provide overdose prevention services to people at its two intervention sites in East Harlem and Washington Heights. Following robust protocols, the centers will provide clients with clean, sterile equipment and monitor them for possible overdose and medical emergencies. Staff will also provide wraparound health and social services including navigation and referrals, case management, and connection to mental health, primary care, and drug treatment. OnPoint will implement digital tools to capture client data in real time, ensure accuracy and efficiency, track data outcomes, and make program improvements. This data will help make an evidence-backed case for expansion and reimbursement of OPCs. If successful, OnPoint’s model could be replicated more broadly, with other community organizations opening up new sites over time.