The first legal Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS), also called supervised injection sites, in the United States opened in New York City last year. Now, Rep. La Shawn K. Ford’s West Side Heroin/Opioid Task Force is exploring the possibility of bringing them to Chicago.
The Task Force hosted an OPS Blitz Day Meeting on Aug. 25 at the Lawndale Christian Health Center Skyline Room, 3750 W. Ogden Ave. Representatives with OnPoint NYC, the nonprofit that operates the two injection sites in Manhattan, were at the meeting to make the case for the sites.
Sam Rivera, OnPoint NYC’s executive director, said the sites allow people to use drugs in a safe, clean space. The sites’ staffers intervene immediately if an overdose happens. The nonprofit also connects users to medical care, housing, drug treatment and other services.
“People are going to use no matter what,” Rivera said. “If they’re going to use, we want them to come and do it safely and stay alive. One-hundred percent of our participants have been to detoxing treatment numerous times. We’re not saying they don’t work, but a dead user can’t go to detoxing treatment. We need them alive. We’re loving on people until they’re ready to love on themselves.”
Kailin See, OnPoint’s senior director of programs, said the sites also provide some comfort to the relatives of users because they at least know their loved one is safe.
“The participants are able to take selfies of themselves inside a booth and sent it to relatives, which shows they’re safe and alive,” See said. “The beautiful thing about this work is that, through these sites and through the stabilization that comes when someone engages with the site regularly, we’re seeing a restoration of relationships that had been fractured and tense.”
Although OnPoint’s Manhattan sites are authorized by New York City, they’re still illegal under federal law and, therefore, not eligible for public funding. According to a June article published by National Public Radio, the sites would cost about $2 million a year to operate if they were open 24/7.
State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th), who launched the Task Force in 2016, expressed support for the sites in a statement.
“With OPS operating, there would be fewer people on the street actually dying right before our eyes, getting high on the street where our kids and families actually see it,” Ford said.
“When we opened, the community members asked, ‘Why did you do this?’ I said, ‘I responded to your request,’” Rivera said. “They said, ‘We didn’t make this request.’ And I said, ‘Oh, but you did. You said you didn’t want users in the street. You said you didn’t want users in your public bathrooms or in the alleys or restaurants. We are courageous enough to bring them in … and they can deal with us.’”