VESTAL, NY (WSKG) – Fatal overdoses increased across the country in 2020.
According to recent numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 93,000 people died of an overdose. New Yorkers made up nearly 3,000, an almost 40 percent increase from the year before.
In addition, Broome County health officials warned of a spike in overdoses throughout the county. The rise in overdose deaths has led to a demand by harm reduction and drug policy advocates for Overdose Prevention Centers, also known as OPCs.
This week, advocacy groups rallied in front of the Binghamton State Office Building to push for OPC legislation. They argued the facilities would reverse overdoses, reduce the transmission of diseases, and connect people in the community with social services.
Latoya Melendez, Community Health Worker at TruthPharm, lost her mother to an overdose in December. She said if OPCs had been an option, her mother and many others might still be alive.
“Especially with that surge of the overdose numbers, it’s not going away, so why not just try it? What’s the worst that could happen?” asked Melendez. “Someone overdoses in a facility? Right now people are just dying.”
At the state office building, members from TruthPharm, No OD New York, and Citizen Action dropped off two letters; one to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and another to State Sen. Fred Akshar (NY-52), demanding the passage of OPC policy.
Advocates refused to leave until they could speak with the governor or someone from his administration. After an hour, members said they had scheduled a meeting with Rebecca Wood, Deputy Special Counsel to the Governor. They said they hoped Cuomo would push for OPC legislation.
Opponents of OPCs have argued that the centers would encourage drug use and translate into legalizing drugs without federal approval.
Earlier this month, Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee signed a pilot program for “safe injection sites” into law. Massachusetts lawmakers introduced similar legislation last week.
New York seemed close to introducing OPCs in 2018, and advocates have said Cuomo privately promised to sign off on the facilities. Since then, officials have said they are waiting for legal clarity from the federal government.
“The way that you get federal approval for something is you pass a law,” said Ryan Thoreson Carson, the Executive Director of No OD New York, a group that is walking across the state in a month-long campaign for OPCs. “That’s how, you know, Rhode Island is taking a stance on this, that’s how Massachusets is taking a stance on this.”