From the Morning Memo:

As elected officials struggle to address the ongoing opioid crisis, one of the more controversial proposals has been legal injection sites, where addicts would have access to clean needles, medical staff, and a variety of information and services – including treatment options. 

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, a rising star in the Democratic firmament, was the first to float the idea back in 2016, citing evidence from other countries – including Canada – where such sites have existed for years, that these sites have helped reduce the numbers of people abusing heroin, and, more importantly, cut down on overdoses. 

Advocates who endorse this idea say it is merely one tool in what should be a wide variety of approaches to address this crisis. And they note that it’s important to keep people alive long enough for them to hit bottom and decide they want to finally get off drugs. 

Myrick’s idea drew him national attention, but it was widely panned by critics, particularly members of the Senate GOP conference, who basically shut down any possibility of discussing it as part of the state’s efforts to combat opioid abuse. 

Asked about Myrick’s proposal at the time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo basically ducked the question, saying he hadn’t heard about the details of the mayor’s plan and therefore didn’t have an opinion on it. (In case you’re wondering, Ithaca has not yet moved forward with the proposal). 

But Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, seized on the idea, saying she would introduce legislation that would legalize supervised injection facilities in New York.

She noted that the governor accepted the recommendations of his own task force back in 2014 that was formed to propose a plan to end the AIDS epidemic in New York by 2020, which called for – among many other things – the establishment of legal injection sites.  

Though the governor embraced many of the task force’s recommendations, the legal injection site idea wasn’t among them. 

But that may be changing, according to veteran activist Charles King, the president and CEO of Housing Works, who co-chaired the governor’s task force. 

“I think we’re going to see that move forward, but we’re only going to see that move forward if the governor does as he’s had the courage to do in other instances and simply work around the Legislature and do it through executive order or regulation,” King said during a CapTon interview last night.

“And I know that many people criticize him for doing that,” King continued. “But frankly, when we can’t get the Legislature to focus seriously on public health measures – we couldn’t even get the Senate to allow…for expanded syringe access through the pharmacies.”

“And it’s not the amount of needles that we’re paying for that is the problem, it’s do we have enough distribution sites and are those distribution sites spread? We have counties across the state that don’t have a single place to go where you can get a clean needle.”

King said advocates have been having “good conversations” with both the state Health Department and the second floor about supervised injection sites, which he called “one important step” toward ending the opioid epidemic.

New York would have to move quickly to be the first in the nation to establish these sites, as a handful of cities across the country – including Denver, Colorado, Boston, Massachusetts, San Francisco, California and Seattle, Washington – are already exploring the idea. 

Moving in this direction would be in keeping with the leftward lean the governor has steadily taken in recent years as he is widely believed to be mulling a White House bid in 2020. 

Asked about King’s comments on CapTon, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi would neither confirm nor deny that supervised injection sites are being considered by the administration, saying only: 

“We routinely engage with all stake holders and solicit their thoughts as we seek to end this epidemic in New York.”