Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Monday that the state had finished allocating the nearly $193 million of the first year of the Opioid Settlement Fund agreements. But she still declined to offer support for supervised injection sites, despite an advisory board tasked with overseeing the $2.6 billion fund recommending such use last year.
At the start of the press conference in the Bronx, Hochul began as she often does when speaking about the opioid epidemic and overdose crisis: with the story of her nephew, who died of an overdose in 2015. “It’s hard to talk about when it hits a family (member), but there are so many families that relate to that,” Hochul said. She said that many people, like her nephew, were unable to get the help they needed, but that the programs receiving money from the Opioid Settlement Fund will help ensure that help is available. “We’ve made more settlement dollars available than any other state so far… we’ve done it faster and with more transparency,” Hochul said.
But Hochul and her administration once again declined to use money from the fund, which is made up of settlement dollars from pharmaceutical companies paid out for their roles in the opioid crisis, to give support to supervised injection sites. The sites, which remain controversial in the United States but are much more mainstream in other countries, offer those suffering from substance use disorder a safe setting to get high with trained staff to prevent overdose deaths. “The (harm reduction strategies) that we’re doing are proven to be successful, but also legal,” Hochul told reporters. “And there are concerns, especially when the United States attorney here has suggested that he may be looking at shutting the ones we have down.”
New York City has the first and only two supervised injection sites in the country, which operate in a legal gray area with the support of Mayor Eric Adams, cooperation of law enforcement and a hands-off approach from the Biden administration. No one has died of an overdose at either location in the nearly two years since they opened. In August, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams suggested that he may go after the sites in the absence of state or local regulations legalizing them. State legislation currently exists to legalize the sites statewide and allow localities to open them if they so choose, but it has never passed the state Legislature. And Hochul won’t say if she supports the bill. “It’s premature to have any conversations,” Hochul said. “But I will say I am committed to finding the best use of the dollars, which I believe we have this year… going out towards supportive housing, transportation, other harm reduction strategies.”
Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who has long sponsored the supervised injection site legislation, said she wasn’t surprised to hear that the governor did not announce any settlement fund money for the sites. She also pointed out that Rhode Island has used some of its own Opioid Settlement Fund money to fund a supervised injection site pilot program that has yet to open. “Nothing bad has happened to them,” Rosenthal told City & State.
While Hochul used Williams’ comments to bolster her position against funding the sites, Rosenthal interpreted them differently. “I think Damian Williams’ statement basically was providing a path forward for (supervised injection sites) to open in New York and that would be the legislative path – and that is what we are aiming to do,” Rosenthal said. She said that she has not had any recent conversations with the governor or her office about the bill.