Health and Medicine

Inside a pioneering U.S. site authorized to monitor people using drugs

By Meryl Kornfield Washington Post

NEW YORK — In tears, Kailin See recounts a story that would not have been possible just weeks before.

A man addicted to heroin, who otherwise would have injected himself alone, visited one of the country’s first authorized locations to use drugs with supervision in early December. He had a job interview later that day, hoping to earn two paychecks by Christmas so he could afford gifts for his children, he told staffers at the Washington Heights site. But when he drew the drugs into his veins, he began to nod off and go pale, a sign of what could have been a lethal overdose. The trained workers sprang into action, giving him oxygen. He quickly came to, said See, one of the main organizers of the site.

In nondescript commercial buildings in Washington Heights and East Harlem, workers watch people use illegal drugs and step in when they overdose, a solution to the drug crisis once considered too fringe to operate in the open. Years of legal battles and debate delayed efforts by cities and states to supervised consumption sites, forcing the facilities to operate underground. These new locations, approved by the then-mayor of New York City, could spur a shift toward offering services nationwide, drug policy experts say. But these sites still present a tangled knot of concerns: The federal government has not approved overdose-prevention centers, still considered an untested concept, and neighbors worry about drawing crime to their area.

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