Advocate calls for safe injection site in Rochester – Spectrum News

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — As officials zero in on the issue of homelessness in the city of Rochester this week, a controversial option could soon be up for discussion.
The city has been breaking up homeless encampments. Many of the people at those locations are dealing with addiction.
Now, a Monroe County advocate is calling on all government agencies and organizations to support placing a safe injection site in the city of Rochester.
“If we were going to do a safe injection site shelter housing type model, which I think is absolutely necessary, that’s the real answer to this question,” said Andy Carey of REACH Advocacy.
Carey has spent decades working with the chronically homeless. Much of his outreach has focused on those suffering from addiction and mental health issues – those who refuse shelter because they would not be allowed to use illegal drugs.
“Just over the years of working with homeless individuals, especially when they have significant mental health or addiction issues,” Carey said. ”Those are treatment issues. The reality is it’s a disease that needs treatment.”
Carey believes Rochester would benefit from having what’s known as a safe or supervised injection site, where individuals can inject themselves in a controlled atmosphere, without fear of arrest.
The first two supervised injection locations in the country opened a year ago in New York City. Carey proposes something similar for Rochester.
“Yeah, we need a place where people can come in, where there’s nurses, doctors that can get their needs met, and then they can safely use wherever,” he said. “That might be if there’s a use room where you have safe needles, safe everything; you do fentanyl testing however you wanted to run that. And at the same time, hopefully, they would also be meeting with trained peers, social workers, whoever, to try and motivate people towards treatment or sobriety.”
In Harlem, the facility offers access to health care professionals, clean needles and other sterile injection supplies, counseling on safe injection techniques and emergency care should there be an overdose.
“You have to have real providers there who are skilled in this,” he said. “It has to be 24/7 staffing with medical folks, shelter staff and social workers. [It is] definitely doable, and I think that our community should do it. But it’s hard. It’s a big thing to do.”
DrugPolicy.Org reports that in the first year of operation at this location, the site states it has reversed more than 600 overdoses.
Despite evidence of success, opening such a site would involve facing some very large legal hurdles, along with maneuvering through the controversy.
“A lot of people still see addiction substance use as a moral failing, like somehow someone could just quit, you know, or they should just go get help,” Carey said. “And it’s just a disease and disease takes treatment and treatment takes time. And that’s what we’re really looking at and a site like that would give us the proper treatment for the disease.”
The site also reports an increase in entry into substance disorder treatment.
“We are pleased that these centers have helped save hundreds of lives, and we look forward to learning more from NYC’s experience,” a spokesperson from the New York State Department of Health said. “No decision has been made on whether to expand to other parts of the state.”
But Carey believes it could not only help with the homelessness problem, but also make a dent in the opioid crisis.
"We can do it,” he said. “I have no question that Rochester can do whatever Rochester needs to do. But we have to have that will.”

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