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Contrary to some conventional wisdom, opening overdose prevention centers in two New York City neighborhoods did not lead to an increase in crime.

The lead author of a study on overdose prevention centers, Brandon del Pozo, an assistant professor of medicine and health services, policy, and practice at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, spoke with Harvard Public Health about the research.

Why study this topic?

Overdose prevention centers are one of the most controversial and highly-publicized public health interventions for the opioid crisis. To our team of researchers, which included a former chief of police, the public safety question felt urgent: Much debate around the acceptability of overdose prevention centers hinges on opinions about their public safety effects.

What did you find?

One, there was no significant increase in either property crime or violent crime—not in the immediate area of overdose prevention centers and not in the wider neighborhood. Two, there were reductions in calls for emergency services. This may indicate that behaviors which would have been considered a nuisance in public areas—including loitering by people experiencing homelessness and open drug use—may have shifted to the overdose prevention centers instead.

What would you like to see happen based on the study’s results?

We’re hoping this study lays to rest concerns that if you [convert] an existing syringe service program in a neighborhood to an overdose prevention center, it will increase the crime or disorder character of the neighborhood. Our study shows that it will not.

—Jo Zhou

(Study in JAMA Network Open, November 2023)

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