New Clinic For Drug Users Opens Near Penn Station - Jonathan Cartu Family Medical Clinic & Patient Care Center
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New Clinic For Drug Users Opens Near Penn Station

New Clinic For Drug Users Opens Near Penn Station

In a nondescript Midtown building tucked between tourist hotels and a few short blocks from New York Penn Station is one of the oldest syringe-exchange programs in the city and one of the newest primary-care clinics for drug users and the homeless.

Called the Ginny Shubert Center for Harm Reduction, the new facility, which celebrated its official launch Wednesday, is the latest multi-purpose medical center opened by Housing Works, a nonprofit social-services group best known for its thrift stores.

Inside the new center, clients can receive sterile supplies for drug use, seek counseling, attend group therapy, see a physician at the Federally Qualified Health Center, take a shower or get a snack. The facility sometimes serves as a safe place for people who are high to sit and rest, as opposed to doing so on the streets or elsewhere in the area. Keeping all of the services in one place and adding primary care, officials said, prevents having to refer people elsewhere and also better encourages people to seek care.

This new one-stop is opening amid dual but related pressures: The state has set an ambitious goal to end the HIV/AIDS crisis by reducing the rate of new infections annually to 750 by 2020, and the city is experiencing a rising number of unintentional deaths from drug overdoses.

At the same time, efforts to launch a pilot program for five overdose prevention sites—facilities where sterile supplies are provided and people can use pre-obtained drugs in a safe and clean place—stalled during the last legislative session in Albany.

Charles King, the chief executive of Housing Works, said the push for safe injection sites will begin again with the fall legislative session with the “hope that there is momentum to carry it forward.”

What has worked to stem the rate of HIV infections, advocates say, is the availability of sterile supplies for drug users.

The number of syringes distributed by syringe-exchange programs has skyrocketed in the past 10 years, according to a June report from the city’s Department of Health. From 2008 to 2018, the number of syringes distributed by programs in New York City increased 127%, from 1.98 million to 4.5 million.

Part of that increase is due to a change in the way syringes can be distributed—through peer programs—and part of it is an increase in the number of places that provide the service.

Core to the Ginny Shubert Center’s approach are “strategies that embrace who people are,” said Demetre Daskalakis, the deputy commissioner for the division of disease control at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“This center is part of the city and state effort to end the epidemic of HIV in New York City. Harm reduction is really our mantra, our marching order,” said Dr. Daskalakis.

At the center—the only site for syringe exchange in Midtown—clients can get supplies without giving a name. Case workers also go through the Midtown neighborhood to help people.

The number of clients seen at the Housing Works facility has remained at about 1,200 a year for several years, said Max Sepulveda, managing director of harm-reduction services. Many who use the syringe-exchange program come in from Jersey City or Long Island City, he said, taking several hundred syringes at a time.

New York state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and state Sen. Brad Hoylman, who represent the area where the clinic is located, said they welcomed the new harm-reduction center in their districts. Mr. Hoylman praised Housing Works for its ability to “make sure everyone is comfortable in their own skin.”

The ultimate hope is that people who use the syringe-exchange program will also seek behavioral-health or primary-care services. On a day-to-day basis, said Mr. King, “what we’re doing is pulling people into an alternative location where they can spend their time and receive health care.”

Write to Melanie Grayce West at [email protected]

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