New York Post’s Latest Attack on Harm Reduction “a Disgrace”

    The overdose crisis took 3,026 lives in New York City in 2022—the highest figure recorded, and 12 percent higher than in 2021. Fentanyl was present in 81 percent of these deaths, and cocaine in 53 percent.

    In this ever-worsening situation, there’s a glimmer of hope. OnPoint NYC operates the first two sanctioned safe consumption sites (SCS, also known as overdose prevention centers) in the United States. Its two centers opened in Manhattan in late November 2021. By August 2023, the organization said that 1,008 overdoses had been prevented. The number today is surely higher. 

    “This site saves lives,” reads a sign in one of the main rooms. People there can use state-banned drugs, either in the company of a peer or monitored by medical staff, with naloxone and other overdose prevention resources on hand.

    The Post slammed Gov. Hochul for investing $12.5 million in harm reduction, including SCS. In comparison, the annual NYPD budget is $12 billion.

    The centers provide syringes and other safer-use supplies too, plus further medical care and access to case managers. People can also get a cup of coffee, a shower, education, counseling or acupuncture. So the sites not only avert overdose deaths, but prevent transmissions of blood-borne diseases and improve health and wellbeing in numerous ways.

    All of that life-saving help is a problemor rather, a pre-election opportunityfor state Republicans and the conservative New York Post. On November 25, the Post published an article slamming Governor Kathy Hochul for investing $12.5 million in public funds in harm reduction, including SCS.

    In comparison, annual spending on the NYPD exceeds $11 billion. In 2023, the city has spent over $80 million to settle police misconduct cases, the Intercept reports.

    Nevertheless the Post highlights objections to effective, evidence-based programsor “lefty harm-reduction strategies,” as the authors have it.

    “Hochul spending $12.5M on ‘harm reduction’ programs that critics say enables junkies,” blasts the headline. These “critics” are Republican lawmakers with no discernible expertise in the science of addiction.

    “These are all things that condone drug use,” state Assemblyman Sam Pirozzolo (R-Staten Island) told the Post. “The goal here is to get people off of drugs, so they need a treatment center, a place where they can go that helps them learn not to use opioids. We need providers that do that. Anything else is furthering addiction.”

    “We’re losing lives to an opioid and overdose crisis,” state Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) told the Post. “Albany Democrats shouldn’t be spending millions to enable more illegal drug use.”

    “It’s a disgrace for Republicans and the Post to politicize life-saving strategies as a talking point.”

    Harm reductionists reacted with exasperation to what is only the latest political attack on these programs in New York. 

    “It’s a disgrace for Republicans and the Post to politicize life-saving strategies as a talking point,” Steven Gray, drug policy campaign coordinator for VOCAL-NY, told Filter. “We’re talking about people’s lives.” 

    He added that while the Post and Republicans highlight drug use, SCS offer a holistic approach to harm reduction and healing. “It’s a place to feel like a human being treated with compassion.” 

    In the current context, media and lawmakers leveraging the issue for an election edge is unconscionable, Gray continued.

    “Despite decades of the drug war, people continue to use drugs, and be at risk of fatal overdose,” he said. “With unstable illicit drug supplies, like fentanyl and xylazine, the conversation should be: How do we keep people alive?” 

    Representatives of OnPoint NYC did not respond to Filter’s request for comment by publication time. 

    But Jeffrey Singer, a Cato Institute fellow and practicing surgeon, pointed out how “moralizing” and “judgemental” attitudes to illicit drugs persist, even as we practice harm reduction without controversy in other areas of life. 

    “Sadly, their staff people will often come to me—that’s Republicans and Democrats alike—and say, ‘I agree with you but that’ll never fly in my district.’”

    “If I had a patient who was borderline diabetic, I’d like for them to eat better and exercise,” he told Filter, “but if they won’t or can’t, I’m not going to deny them a prescription to a statin.” Likewise with offering treatment to people who have liver problems from drinking or COPD from smoking. “Are you going to deny them oxygen because they made decisions you don’t agree with?”

    Singer regularly meets with politicians in Washington, DC, to make the case for harm reduction. Although he finds that Democrats are more receptive to his message, he said a handful of Republicans do see the importance of science-based, humane approaches to drug use or substance use disorder. 

    But such approaches don’t produce the kind of red meat they may think their constituents want. 

    “Sadly, their staff people will often come to me—that’s Republicans and Democrats alike—and say, ‘I agree with you but that’ll never fly in my district.’”



    Photograph by Jorge Láscar via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

    Correction, November 29: This article was edited to more accurately reflect Dr. Singer’s role in meeting with lawmakers.

    • Tana is a reporter covering criminal justice, drug policy, immigration and politics. She’s written for the Washington Post,, Glamour, Gothamist, Vice and the Stanford Social Innovation Review. She also writes on Substack. She was previously deputy editor of The Influence, a web magazine about drug policy and criminal justice, and served for years as managing editor of AlterNet. She lives in New York City.

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