Grove Header- White.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Could "Safe Space" for Taking Drugs Lower OD Deaths & Boost Treatment? Several NY Groups Say Yes

Chris Bolt/WAER News

A statewide campaign visited Syracuse promoting safe spaces for people to use illegal drugs – in hopes of reducing overdose deaths and possibly curbing the drug use.  Angela Woody is with Vocal-New York, a group that works on drug policy, H-I-V AIDS issues, and mass incarceration.  She was in Syracuse with the Safe Shape Tour.  She says I-V and other drug users are shooting up or smoking in places that present a number of problems.

“Across the state of New York a lot of people are using in public places, like public parks or public restrooms, like McDonalds bathrooms or Starbucks or outside.  Neither of those are sterile environments.  Also when people use at home alone in their apartments, there’s no one there who’s able to intervene if they should have an overdose.”


  • From 2010 to 2015, 145% increase in overdose deaths
  • In 2016: 61 deaths related to heroin or heroin mixed with fentanyl
  • In 2016: another 32 deaths related to fentanyl
  • In 2016: 78 prescription opioid related deaths

Syracuse has needle exchange programs through A-C-R Health.  Program Assistant Director Julia LaVere (la VEER) says that solves some problems.

“What they would be doing is either reusing a needle which isn’t safe.  They should only use a needle once and discard it.  Or sharing needles with others, which promotes infectious disease transmission.” 

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
The group VOCAL NY and ACR Health put up this concept for a safe space. It has different areas for supplies, consumption, and staff area. Such spaces could be part of existing services or could be mobile, depending an an area's need.

The Safe Spaces idea would carry that one step further.  Woody says needle exchange programs have shown that they can get people in touch with other health and treatment help.

“People that participate in receiving syringe exchange from syringe exchanges oftentimes they don’t receive services elsewhere.  So this about bringing people in and giving them an access point, starting that intervention earlier on.  We in fact know when people do have a safer space to consume drugs that 30% or more of them will go on to receive detoxification or rehabilitation services.”

Vocal New York and A-C-R Health set up a model of what a safe space might look like.  It included areas for drug use, with stainless steel tables, clean syringes, 

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
The supplies area in the Safe Space has clean syringes, cotton and water used to clean the drugs, safe smoking kits to prevent disease transmission from burned lips on crack pipes that get shared.

cotton and water for cleaner drug use, and sterile smoking devices.  Staff could intervene in an overdose, or suggest treatment. 

The safe space idea is not legal in New York right now.  It needs a change in state law…or the declaration of a public health emergency.  And Woody says 13-hundred drug deaths in New York City last year and at least another 83 here in Onondaga County sounds like an health emergency to her.   

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.