Behind Sam Rivera’s desk in his office at the Harlem OnPoint supervised injection and harm reduction center is a sign for an early syringe exchange program. “Clean Needles Save Lives: Drug Users Doing It For Ourselves, 1991,” the metal sign reads, with a photo and description of the response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. It’s not just a bit of historical memorabilia – Rivera was there. “My early work in harm reduction was literally going into a shooting gallery and cleaning syringes in a bucket so people wouldn’t get HIV,” Rivera told City & State, referencing communal spaces that drug users would get high in. “And that’s fighting, we had to fight for everything. No one supported harm reduction.”
A lot has changed since then. Today, Rivera heads OnPoint NYC, the largest provider of harm reduction services for drug users in New York City – and the operator of the nation’s first two supervised injection sites. The sites are places where drug users can bring pre-obtained drugs into a safe and sterile setting to shoot up under the supervision of trained professionals who can intervene in the case of an overdose. OnPoint’s two locations are in Manhattan – one in East Harlem and a second in Washington Heights. They opened with the blessing of the city government in November 2021 to national attention. They’re a pilot program of sorts, so both supporters and detractors are keeping a close eye on the outcomes.
Read more at City & State NY