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Proposed Safe Injection Facilities Renew Debate Over Treatment Of Drug Addiction

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Imagine having facilities where drug users go to get high, with nurses supervising to assure it's all done as safely as it can be.

That's a controversial concept being tried in some places around the country that could be heading to our area.

Places where drug users can get high with a medical professional are known as supervised, or safe, injection facilities. They aim to provide a clean and sterile environment for illegal drug users, and they're supported by more than 100 health care professionals in New York City.

On Tuesday, they started a state-wide push to get elected officials to listen.

"So people bring their own drugs that they've obtained -- unfortunately illegally -- and bring them into a place where they can use, and then they make referrals to housing, to methadone, to detox," nurse Liz Evans tells CBS2's Emily Smith.

Safe injection facilities are currently illegal in New York State. Seattle lawmakers recently approved opening a safe site, and Boston is getting close to doing the same -- it now has medical monitoring sites for people who have already injected illegal drugs.

The sites have been popular in Europe for decades.

"If it's supervised and regulated I think that's great," one woman said. " We have a terrible heroin epidemic in the United States."

"Let's ask Seattle to check in in about a year or two," another woman said.

Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds with the Family and Children's Association works with drug addicts every day, and says these kinds of safe sites seem to be a last resort.

It's a concept he says he just can't get behind.

"We are saying just come on in," he tells CBS2. "We will even help you put the needle in your arm. So for me, it feels like it goes too far."

Those who are in favor of the facilities say they're far from giving up.

"We don't have time to waste," Cassandra Frederick of the Drug Policy Alliance tells CBS2. "There are parents burying children and loved ones every single day."

Supporters say it offers a chance to reach out to addicts, and helps get a handle on the epidemic's side effects such as hepatitis C, AIDS, and death from overdose.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioid and heroin overdoses killed more than 52,000 people in 2015 -- more than traffic accidents and homicides combined, CBS2 reported.

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