Op-Ed Published on worsening conditions in Harlem

Greater Harlem Coalition has published this Op-Ed on New York Daily News describing the impact of excessive number of methadone clinics in Harlem. Please help forward to your neighbors and elected officials to raise awareness

Although the opioid epidemic led to a 200% increase in overdose deaths in New York State from 2010-17, even before the sharp rise last year during the COVID pandemic, medical strategies to address Substance Use Disorder (SUD) haven’t substantially changed in decades. In New York City, the state Department of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) relies on approximately 70 Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) that primarily dispense methadone.

National Institutes of Health research shows that opioid treatment is most successful when it is available locally, but OASAS data on the distribution and attendance of treatment programs in New York City show a systemic overconcentration of OTPs in majority Black and Brown neighborhoods. Harlem is particularly oversaturated, with eight OTPs in a five-block radius of 125th St. and Park Ave. More than 75% of patients being treated in Harlem live elsewhere and commute into the neighborhood from elsewhere in the city, and even from Long Island and Upstate New York. Since successful treatment negatively correlates with distance from a treatment site, OASAS’s decision to concentrate treatment centers in Harlem is clearly not based on patient welfare.

Profit margins, instead, seems to be the major factor that has led to Harlem becoming the city’s “methadone hub,” primarily through three OTP providers: Mount Sinai (which absorbed Beth Israel’s many OTPs during their merger), Kaleidoscope and START, who benefit from Harlem’s relatively inexpensive real estate. And given the economic and political advantages that accrue from expanding an existing facility, OTP capacity in Harlem has continued to increase over the years, leading social services to refer more patients to Harlem, leading to more increases, and so on, with full approval from OASAS.

This hyper-concentration of drug treatment resources in Harlem unfairly burdens the patients who have to travel up to six days a week to get their medication. It also burdens area residents and businesses. Along much of 125th St., used needles lie in gutters and on the sidewalks; people nod out and use doorways as toilets. Drug dealers operate openly, taking advantage of this concentration of vulnerable patients. Small businesses suffer from a lack of foot traffic and high rates of shoplifting. Restaurants note that customers often report being uncomfortable and do not return. New businesses are reluctant to open in the neighborhood when they see the street drug dealing and use.

And Mount Sinai is now planning to relocate its CARES program, an education program for at-risk kids (with mental and addiction issues), from Morningside Heights into the middle of this methadone hub — another decision that seems unlikely to benefit the clients.

Some believe that this kind of oversaturation is part of Harlem’s identity. In reality, the neighborhood’s history of compassion for people who are working through difficulties is being exploited. OASAS and Mount Sinai’s relentless concentration of treatment facilities in this neighborhood of color is simply medical redlining. Wealthier and frequently whiter communities are rarely asked to shoulder their fair share of vulnerable OTP patients.

It’s past time that this problem be addressed. While the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act currently under consideration at the federal level would increase Medicaid reimbursement for helping those struggling with drug abuse and make alternative forms of treatment more readily available, it is expected to do little to alleviate Harlem’s burden unless more direct actions are taken.

New York State must take responsibility for the oversaturation and adopt measures to address it without further delay.

First, to allow a systematic assessment of whether treatment programs are being fairly situated, OASAS should publish data on addiction and overdose rates, capacities, services, locations of drug treatment centers in each district, and audit reports and verified complaints should be made publicly and easily available.

Then, the state should move OTPs that exceed the demonstrable need of the neighborhood into other, less serviced, neighborhoods in each renewal cycle. When homeless shelters or environmental hazards are unfairly clustered in relatively poor and powerless parts of the city, we call it racism.

Input from community organizations, local government officials and government agents such as police and social workers regarding the impact of OTPs on their neighborhoods should also be made public and included when considering license renewal.

And more weight in OTP placement decisions should be given to New York City officials. The mayor’s office and the City Council, in turn, must commit to redressing this inequity.

If the officials of New York State and New York City are committed to rooting out systemic racism, they must also commit to distributing social services equitably. No community should be asked to do more than its fair share — or allowed to do less — regardless of its economic, political or racial make-up. We should have tremendous compassion for those struggling with drug addiction, and part of that compassion should be ensuring that services designed to help them are close to their homes.

Hill and Asberry-Chresfield are founders of The Greater Harlem Coalition, a grassroots organization focused on improving quality of life.

Protest at Gracie Mansion

We had a fantastic turnout at Da Homeless Hero’s amazing rally and march at Gracie Mansion on Saturday, July 10th.  

Our message that congregant shelters, poorly run shelters, and inadequate supportive housing are the root causes of many issues in both Harlem and New York City, was forcefully delivered by Madlyn.  Additionally, her call to dismantle the horrific and horrifically expensive congregate shelter complex (and, in its place, to provide supportive housing instead), was clear and powerful.

In addition to thanking Madlyn for her powerful words, we want to acknowledge the incredible work and vision of Shams to pull this all together.  The rainbow of passionate protesters, the news media, and the numerous NYC political leaders, candidates, and future leaders who attended, all highlight his incredible organizing skills and the justness of his advocacy.

Lastly, we want to spotlight Eva who has worked tirelessly on supporting Shams, organizing GHC around these issues, and being a clarion voice for housing justice.  Eva has done an amazing job and her work for both GHC and CB11 is incredibly awe-inspiring.

So, thank you Madlyn, Shams, and Eva, and thank you to everyone else who came out, brought signs, chanted, marched, and is helping to spread the word. 

Together we marched and are marching for a better Harlem, a better New York, and justice for all.

Over 75% of Patients in Harlem & East Harlem Opioid Treatment Programs are NOT Residents of Harlem

Homeless Shelter Census Numbers by Community District

Data from NYC DHS, pre-COVID-19.

Hover over a Community District to learn the Community District number and the total number of people in shelters, located in that Community District.

GHC Meeting on Wednesday, June 9th. 7:00 PM

The Greater Harlem Coalition will have an election season general meeting on Wednesday, June 9th, at 7:00 PM.

Please register in advance for this meeting:
https://fordham.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUtceGgrz0iEtQ33Y651agCFqaH9_-Wu0hO

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

We will detail our outreach to political candidates, letter writing to city and state officials, our work with elected officials, and our social media campaigns – all to improve the quality of life in Harlem and East Harlem.

We look forward to talking about our plans for 2022, and getting your feedback on what our post-June 22 focus should be.

City Council District 9 Candidate Athena Moore

https://www.athenamoore.com/

Below are Athena Moore’s thoughts on oversaturation of addiction programs in Harlem and East Harlem:

Harlem and East Harlem have suffered from a rise in illegal drug use and sales; homelessness; and crime. We must use every resource possible to address these concerns. Medical redlining is also a significant problem. The African American and Latino communities have experienced significant barriers and lack of access to services. However, the location of SIF and methadone clinics must be thoughtfully planned specific to the data and need in recognition of the historic and pervasive unfair treatment of our communities. As a City Council member, I will advocate for legislation that prioritizes evidence-based prevention, treatment and care and improved safety outcomes in our neighborhoods. Safe Injection Facilities (SIF) have shown a steep reduction in deaths by overdose and is one method to help combat the opioid crisis, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the proliferation has led to an oversaturation in Harlem and East Harlem. I support a moratorium on methadone clinics and fair share of harm reduction facilities. Harlem bears a disproportionate burden of facilities and I strongly believe we must correct this imbalance. We must have equity in determining the location of these sites and ensure an increase in funding and resources for public safety, sanitation/trash removal, mental health assistance and homeless prevention. For nearly a decade, I have worked directly with the 125th St TaskForce, the District Attorney’s Office, NYPD, DOH, 125th St BID, MMPCIA, local block associations and others to encourage cross-agency coordination and I will continue to facilitate necessary planning with the Mayor, City Council and city agencies to address the growing concerns. I will support increased police presence and drug surveillance in identified high crime and drug areas. I have worked with Greater Harlem Coalition since it’s inception and will remain vigilant in advocacy and action. I will advocate for culturally responsive services and address related stigma to ensure that the needs of substance abuse, homelessness, and mental health are met with dignity and compassion but not to the expense of the quality of life and safety of local residents.

City Council District 9 Candidate Mario Rosser

https://www.mariorosser.com/

Below are Mario Rosser’s thoughts on oversaturation of addiction programs in Harlem and East Harlem:

I will advocate for a bottom up approach to substance use programs in our community. The top down approach has harmed Harlem in real ways. We need to stop providing funds to the same programs but expecting different results. As City Councilmember, I would deploy the convening power of our City Council office to ensure providers in our community coordinate to save lives instead of competing for dollars.

City Council District 9 Candidate William Allen

https://www.williamallennyc.org/

Below are William Allen’s thoughts on oversaturation of addiction programs in Harlem and East Harlem:

The last two questions are pretty broad and require further explanations. As a child, my Harlem streets were sprayed with used syringes, glass and flatten soda or beer cans. My mother worried daily about my journey from home to school. She thought that one of the needles would find its way into my cloth sneakers. Today in Harlem, unfortunately, you can find large numbers of people in search of the next high and others like me, fighting for quality services to rid them of their ills that prevent them from a better life. All have become challenging in this Harlem century. The sights today causes progressive thinkers to often question their own humanity. With the incline of more educated and wealthier Harlem residents, new issues have emerged. The 2020 is reporting that the district population— blacks at 47.8%, whites at 24%, nonwhite Hispanics at 19% and Asian/Others at 9% (numbers should be confirmed). I firmly oppose the over saturation of programs and facilities that don’t serve Harlem residents. In addition, I don’t support programs that don’t have a component to measure community concerns. In Greater Harlem, we support humane treatment and services, but they must be done without negating local residents quality of life, near and around such facilities. As the Harlem voice in the NYC Council, I’ll insure that the local community boards will serve as a major conduit for civic education and engagement on all issues confronting our community. The GHC has done a tremendous job of educating Greater Harlem, as well as those that impact public policy and the management of critical services. All of the current research suggest that Safe Injection Programs save lives, save municipalities money, i.e., hospitalizations and emergency care. I would oppose placing any safe injection sites in the district, if it isn’t a part of a plan to equitably distribute such facilities around the city. Also, we must insure that our city expand its NYC Cares. New York State must push solidly for Single Payer Healthcare to ensure that New Yorkers with drug dependency disorders have increased access to care, therapy and low cost treatment. It would be great for our local institutions to be known as the best ones serving people from communities of long standing need. Every New Yorker should be served with dignity, but no community should be the dumping ground because its populated by the poor and the silent. While our nation accepts the poor, the tried and huddle masses yearning to be free, but often it does it without insuring the dignity of those needing help.

City Council District 9 Candidate Cordell Cleare

Cordell Cleare on Facebook

Below are Cordell Cleare’s thoughts on oversaturation of addiction programs in Harlem and East Harlem:

City Council District 9 Candidate Alpheaus Marcus

https://alpheausmarcus.net/

Below are Alpheaus Marcus’ thoughts on oversaturation of addiction programs in Harlem and East Harlem:

There has been a huge problem within Harlem where these programs are essentially geared at promoting drug use as opposed to helping end the drug use. Growing up in Harlem I have seen the effects as well as the affects drugs have caused in the urban families. The wasted funding on programs as well as the support of safe injection sites does very little to address drug dealing and the other hazards associated with drug dealing namely gun violence. We must be both proactive and diligent in holding our elected officials accountable for the foreseeable narrative resulting from having these programs especially here in the Harlem Communities. As a community advocate running for city council for district 9 this lawmaking platform will only amplify my advocacy for both the interest and public safety interest of Harlem. Thank you.