Op-Ed: New Jersey Should Open Overdose Prevention Centers

Sandy Gibson, Roseanne Scotti | April 4, 2019 | Opinion
Lawmakers need to act on proposed legislation because ‘saving lives is more important than punishing behavior’

Sandy Gibson, left, and Roseanne Scotti
In New Jersey, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death. More than 3,000 people died from drug overdoses in the state in 2018. Families are being devastated by the loss of loved ones to preventable overdose deaths.

New Jersey has implemented numerous overdose prevention strategies including increased access to drug treatment, expanded access to naloxone and a Good Samaritan 911 law. Despite this, more must be done.

Fear of arrest and prosecution, as well as the stigma attached to drug use, force people to hide their drug use or to use drugs in unsafe conditions. If these barriers were removed, countless lives could be saved. A way to remove these barriers would be by establishing overdose prevention centers. These are locations where people can legally consume previously purchased drugs under the supervision of trained staff. The staff are able to provide immediate assistance in the case of an overdose and connect people to drug treatment, medical care, social services and harm-reduction services.

New York City, other jurisdictions

A growing number of jurisdictions — including Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York City — are considering establishing overdose prevention centers, also known as safe consumption spaces, in response to the devastating loss of life. There are approximately 120 such centers operating in 10 countries around the world. Studies of these programs show numerous positive outcomes, including increased access to drug treatment, improved public safety, reduction in HIV and hepatitis C risks, and increased use of medical and social services. Moreover, no one has ever died of an overdose at one of these centers.

Because New Jersey is experiencing a public health crisis due to drug overdose deaths, and because saving lives is more important than punishing behavior, New Jersey should add another critical tool to its overdose-prevention toolbox by allowing for the establishment of overdose prevention centers.

Legislation sponsored by Sens. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer, Middlesex) and Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), and Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri Huttle (D-Bergen), would authorize overdose prevention centers in New Jersey. This important legislation will save lives and ensure that people who use drugs find a safe space to be connected to help and support. The Legislature should consider this bill as quickly as possible.