Advocates want prevention centers to combat overdoses, encourage recovery

Erie County

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — State and local advocates are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to open overdose prevention centers across the state. They say these facilities would give people who use drugs a safe place to do so and prevent death.

Organizers say opioid overdoses have been particularly bad in New York over the past year. They say these facilities won’t enable drug use but instead will keep people safe and lead them to recovery.

Ryan Thoresen Carson is advocating for overdose prevention centers by walking across the state. He finished his journey in Buffalo on Friday. “People are going to use heroin,” he says. “If people are going to use heroin, we should be able to save their lives, and keeping people alive is the most important thing. And after that, if they want to seek treatment, this is also a site where they can do that,” he said.

Carson lost two friends to overdose in the past five years. “I want to be able to go look at his grave on the five-year anniversary of his death in October,” he said. “Be able to look at that grave and know I did everything I possibly could so somebody wouldn’t have to go through what I went through.”

The centers are places where people can safely use drugs, access medical care, temporary housing, social workers, and if they want it, rehabilitation treatment. Organizers say the governor approved a pilot program for the centers but plans halted in 2017.

Emma Fabian is the associate vice president of Evergreen Health and says overdoses are up 57% in Erie County during the pandemic. “We know it’s not as simple as just asking people to stop using drugs and expecting that’s going to work. That’s why we need safe, non-judgmental, welcoming spaces where people can get their foot in the door of health care services,” she said.

Ivette Chavez-Gonzalez is an advocate who knows this experience firsthand. She got clean after being part of a syringe exchange program. “I used to use substances, and you couldn’t tell me nothing,” she says. “Evergreen and Harm Reduction reached out to me and I became part of them. And they never judged me, and took me under their wing, and gave me a job—a person who couldn’t even work.”

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