New York City has opened a pair of safe, supervised injection sites to help tackle deaths from opioid overdoses, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday. 

“New York City has led the nation’s battle against COVID-19, and the fight to keep our community safe doesn’t stop there. After exhaustive study, we know the right path forward to protect the most vulnerable people in our city. And we will not hesitate to take it,” said de Blasio in a press release.

“Overdose Prevention Centers are a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis. I’m proud to show cities in this country that after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible.”

Under the new program, the city will begin operating two sites in East Harlem and Washington Heights. They will be manned by trained staff who will provide clean needles, administer naloxone to reverse overdoses and provide users with options for addiction treatment, according to the New York Times

A safe injection site is a designated location where individuals can use substances like fentanyl or other opioids, but under the medical supervision of trained staff. This can contribute to lower overdose deaths, according to experts, and drug users can be assisted with addiction services on request as well. 

With this decision, New York has become the country's first city to open official injection sites. This move follows 2020 being what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said was the deadliest on record for opioid deaths. Last year, an estimated 100,306 deaths occurred from overdoses with 2,243 taking place in New York City alone. 

The opening of the injection sites follows through on an idea put forward by de Blasio in 2018 to bring them to his city. Other cities have proposed similar ideas for safe injection sites, but none have yet started. A similar initiative has stalled in the courts in Seattle and Philadelphia, whereas San Francisco hopes to open its first in 2022. 

It is unclear if the safe injection sites will face difficulties from the federal government in their use. In 2019, the Trump administration sued Philadelphia to prevent the opening of a site operated by a local nonprofit on the grounds that it violated federal law on operating a location designed for what is still considered illegal drug use. 

The Times reported that city officials are in contact with federal counterparts, whom they believe do not look to discourage safe injection sites as a way to lower opioid deaths.