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Multi-agency team created to clean up needles in Washington Heights subway tunnel

New Efforts Underway To Address Drug Abuse In Upper Manhattan 01:59

NEW YORK - A tunnel clean-up in Washington Heights is the latest move to combat the effects of the opioid epidemic.

The nation's first official overdose prevention sites opened in Manhattan two months ago, promising to help heal the community after a spike in drug-related deaths. A group of neighbors put that promise to the test.

"I've been through the crack era," Washington Heights native Led Black told CBS2's Jessi Mitchell. "I've never seen what I'm seeing now."

Last month, Black got sick of seeing needles littering the West 191st Street subway tunnel along Broadway. He blasted photos across his Instagram page @UptownCollectiv for thousands of followers to see. It got the attention of newly elected City Council member Carmen de la Rosa.

"She made a statement within hours and the very next day it was clean," said Black.

The cleanup crew included a team from OnPoint NYC, which runs the overdose prevention site half a mile away.

"I think it was a challenge to see if we would show up the way we say we would," said OnPoint NYC executive director Sam Rivera. "Some other people knew we would be there. I was proud to see that."

Last week Mitchell saw new evidence of harmful highs had returned to the tunnel. De la Rosa returned this week, though, with a multi-agency team and a promise.

"There was a commitment from DOT to ensure that more priority is given to this tunnel as well as to the other tunnels in this jurisdiction," de la Rosa said during a press conference after the second clean-up effort.

While neighbors have noticed more needles, there are also more users surviving their high. OnPoint NYC reversed 100 overdoses within the first six weeks of operation.

"I'm watching the difference between someone using in a community, hiding in a corner," Rivera said, "to being in this area with support and having conversations about being different and changing."

The federal government announced it will not interfere with the operation and is now offering more funding for programs like OnPoint NYC. Neighbors like Black, however, caution against a user-first approach.

"The approach needs to put the community first and foremost," Black said. "I think it needs to put the children of our community, they're the future, the ones that are not on drugs."

Black is teaching his kids to watch their step.

If you have a tip about the happenings in Harlem, please reach out to CBS2's Jessi Mitchell by clicking here.

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