Hochul says no to funding overdose prevention centers with opioid settlement dollars


Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration is rejecting a proposal from the state’s Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board to support overdose prevention centers with some of the $2 billion that New York has procured in legal settlements with drug manufacturers. The rejection was included in a letter sent to the board on Tuesday by Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, commissioner of the state’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports.

In the past, Hochul has refrained from explicitly denying her support for these types of programs, which are also known informally as safe injection sites. These facilities allow people to use illegal drugs under staff supervision. But the letter reasoned that overdose prevention centers violate “various state and federal substance-related laws, including laws that make it illegal to use, open or maintain property where any controlled substance is consumed.”

The move comes a day after the U.S. Department of Justice once again delayed its deadline to respond to a case involving overdose prevention centers in Philadelphia. In 2018, former President Donald Trump’s administration sued the nonprofit Safehouse, which was seeking to open an overdose prevention center there, citing the so-called “crack house statute,” which makes it illegal to knowingly operate a site where illicit drugs are used.

President Joe Biden’s administration has since been in talks with Safehouse about a settlement this year, and the nonprofit previously expressed optimism that the federal government would release guidance allowing overdose prevention centers to operate across the country.

But when the DOJ filed a motion this week to push its Dec. 5 deadline to 2023, Safehouse denounced the delay and said it would oppose the extension.

“We are long overdue for a timeline as to when DOJ evaluations will be complete so that a life-saving initiative can begin,” the nonprofit said in a statement.

Some watchers in New York said they were hopeful that federal support for overdose prevention centers would translate into state funding. When the Settlement Board released funding recommendations last month, Charles King, CEO of the nonprofit Housing Works, said he was optimistic that a DOJ decision in Philadelphia would allow Hochul to approve the money.

King said he would not open the additional overdose prevention centers Housing Works has been planning without some form of public funding.

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration has lauded the nonprofit OnPoint NYC for opening two overdose prevention centers in Manhattan — but has also said city dollars will not fund these or similar facilities until state or federal support arrives.

OnPoint, which opened in November 2021, recently released a report indicating that its two centers had intervened in more than 600 potentially fatal overdoses in their first year of operation.

“It’s callous and ridiculous,” Jasmine Budnella, director of drug policy at the group Vocal NY, said of Hochul’s rejection. “We have an opportunity to utilize the funding for what has been called to do, which is save lives.”

Despite federal restrictions, Rhode Island’s Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee recently approved and allocated $2.5 million from settlements with pharmaceutical companies for a planned overdose prevention center in Providence.

New York’s Legislature will also have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposals and the advisory board will have a chance to respond. Its next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14.


Source : https://gothamist.com/news/hochul-says-no-to-funding-overdose-prevention-centers-with-opioid-settlement-dollars

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