Marisa Taylor | September 16, 2014
NEW YORK CITY — Public health advocates and legislators rallied on the steps of New York City Hall on Tuesday morning, calling for a more compassionate approach to the city’s burgeoning drug overdose problem.
“When we talk about drug addiction, we must approach it as a public health issue and not a criminal justice issue,” New York state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx, told the crowd huddled under umbrellas in the rain.
“Harsh penalties do not work, they do not make people healthier, [and] they do not make people safer,” he added.
Heroin overdose deaths in New York City have more than doubled in the last three years, surging from 209 in 2010 to 420 in 2013, according to the city’s Department of Mental Health and Hygiene.
Experts have warned that growing abuse of expensive prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin has created a new class of heroin users who switch over to the cheaper street drug and then get hooked. The result has been a national epidemic, with prescription drug overdoses now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
At Tuesday’s event, organized New York City advocacy group VOCAL-NY, lawmakers said that rather than criminalizing drug abuse, the city ought to focus on more widespread dispensing of naloxone, a drug that works as an antidote to heroin and opiate overdoses.
They also urged support for a wider variety of drug treatment programs for those who want help, including what’s known as harm reduction, a strategy that doesn’t necessarily call for quitting drugs altogether but instead promotes safer use through programs like needle exchanges.