Plan for drug-injection sites deserves test to save lives

Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed a pilot program that would allow supervised sites where individuals could safely inject illegal drugs.

The spaces, expected to be run by nonprofit organizations, would include personnel trained to use medication to reverse overdoses. In so doing, the city might help limit the danger from behavior that would likely happen if done elsewhere. In 2017, a record 1,441 overdose fatalities were logged in NYC, according to city data. More than 80 percent of those deaths involved opioids. Driven by the powerful drug fentanyl, the fatal overdoses are part of a national opioid scourge that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Supervised injection facilities have been in development in cities like San Francisco and Philadelphia and have been approved in other countries, where research suggests they help reduce drug crime and drug use. De Blasio supports opening four pilot sites in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx. A study by the Weill Cornell Medical College found the effort could prevent 130 overdose deaths a year.

There are obstacles for NYC’s pilot project, including drug prohibitions under federal law. Closer to home, New Yorkers might be leery of permitting illegal behavior, wondering whether it would contribute to drug use. But needle-exchange programs also were questioned when HIV/AIDS cases skyrocketed in NYC in the 1980s. Research has shown that such programs helped bend the curve of HIV transmission downward.

In backing the pilot program, de Blasio has asked for support from the state, city law enforcement and local communities that would be affected by the sites.

Given the depth of the opioid crisis, testing a program makes sense, but must include clear metrics and follow-up. The mayor should ensure the facilities serve as one-stop centers where addicts would be offered mental health and other services. If the pilot program succeeds, de Blasio should consider similar sites in Queens as well as in Staten Island, an epicenter of the NYC crisis.

This experiment can be a life-changer and a life-saver, which are what’s needed.