NYC Council backs drug overdose treatment at bars, restaurants

City Council members want to enlist bars, restaurants and nightclubs in the fight against deadly drug overdoses by providing them with life-saving Narcan doses and fentanyl testing kits.

A bill setting up the program — which would be run by the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene — on Tuesday cleared the council’s Committee on Mental Health Disabilities and Addiction.

The equipment that could test cocaine for fentanyl and treat overdoses would be administered to anyone — customers, staff or passers-by — experiencing an opioid overdose.

“We are in the midst of a national public health crisis, and every four hours a New Yorker loses their life due to an opioid overdose,” said Councilwoman Linda Lee (D-Queens), the committee’s chair.

The bill would also require the Health Department to offer free resources and training for staff of participating nightlife establishments on how to use the kits.

The bill has support from some business owners. Spencer Nelson, owner of 101 Wilson Bar in Bushwick, said he’s no stranger to realties of nightlife, including drug use.

“I’m a huge Narcan advocate,” Nelson said. “And if you’re doing something, you should really be aware of how you’re doing it. If you’re going to do it, know that things can go wrong, and you need to have things [in place] in case they do.”

Drug overdose deaths in New York reached a record high of 2,062 in 2020, city data show. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be lethal in small doses and is often added to cocaine, accounted for 77% of those deaths.

Fentanyl overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 45, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Social isolation, mental health challenges and a volatile drug supply during the pandemic may have led to more drug use and overdose deaths, health experts say.

Council Member Chi Ossé (D-Brooklyn), a sponsor of the bill, said a friend of his died of an overdose last year.

“I thank every single one of you people on this bill because I know that my friend would still be alive here today, if a piece of legislation like this was here and passed,” he said.

Mitch Rosenthal, president of the Rosenthal Center for Addiction Studies, supported the bill, but said it and the city’s other efforts — such as safe-injection sites — should lead drug users to treatment programs.

“Anything that is going to prevent deaths even temporarily is very useful,” Rosenthal said. “But it would be more useful if these interventions were then gateways and pathways and bridges to treatment… This isn’t bad, but it’s not balanced.”

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