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Op-Ed: A Federal Prosecutor Offers Hope to Reverse NYC's Cruel Drug Policies

Former Bay Ridge City Council Candidate Bob Capano shares his thoughts on drug policy.
Bob Capano. Photo: Provided/Bob Capano.

By Bob Capano


Rather than watching my 3-year-old son open his presents from Santa Claus on Christmas morning, I woke up in a hospital after drinking too much. Anyone suffering from addiction knows that it is only when our lives became more painful and difficult that we sought recovery. New York City policies making it easier for those who are addicted to use are cruel, not compassionate.

Thankfully, last week a local federal prosecutor indicated he may end one of these policies, which allows people to use illegal drugs like heroin inside a “supervised injection site.”   

Indeed, there was no more painful moment in my life than not waking up with my son and wife on Christmas. So, I spent January at Sunrise House in Lafayette, New Jersey to begin my recovery.

Unfortunately, New York City has been doing more to sentence addicts to a lifetime of addiction rather than breaking their dependence on drugs.

During his last months in office Mayor Bill de Blasio opened the first in the nation’s “Supervised Injection Sites” in Manhattan that allow people to legally inject poison into their bodies. In addition to these two facilities, Mayor Eric Adams recently announced that he is going to open another three by 2025. However, these plans are in jeopardy thanks to a Manhattan federal prosecutor.

Last week, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, said he will “exercise all options, including enforcement” because these sites are violating the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act by allowing the use of controlled substances on their property.

The fact that a prosecutor is finally willing to enforce the law is welcome news. Think about it, how can we expect law enforcement to enforce drug laws when City Hall encourages its use?

The sad news is that these legalized drug dens are just the tip of the iceberg in hurting, rather than helping those suffering from addiction.

Last month, a new taxpayer-funded ad campaign by the NYC Department of Health began urging addicts hooked on xylazine to walk into these “supervised injection sites” to use the drug under supervision. Xylazine is also known as the “zombie drug” on the street because it is an animal tranquilizer that causes “extreme sedation, slowed heart rate, or slowed or stopped breathing,” according to our own city Health Department. Why would we want to encourage its continued use?

Not to be outdone, Mayor Adams also recently unveiled the first of several street vending machines to provide free drug paraphernalia. This, like other City Hall drug policies, only delays the day when those suffering from addiction hit rock bottom, which is the only way many of us may seek help.

Addiction only ends in three ways- prison, death, or rehab/institutionalization. I was fortunate to experience the best of the worst of these three options. More enabling by Mayor Adams only makes it more likely that others will face one of the other two more dismal fates.

According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, there has been a 27% increase in drug overdose deaths in the five boroughs from 2020 to 2021, and the numbers are only rising. To reverse this heart-breaking trend, we must do all that we can to push those suffering from addiction into a life of recovery. This will only happen when they admit their powerlessness over their disease.

Allowing easier access to drug paraphernalia, opening more places to use, and literally advertising for addicts to come on in to shoot up only lessens the likelihood that they will one day reach their first anniversary sober or receive their one-year chip.

In fact, these injection facilities will just facilitate more drug use that will only increase the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s sad overdose numbers. Drug dealers are true entrepreneurs; they will relocate close to these facilities to better serve their customers- those addicted. Therefore, it will be even easier for those suffering to buy and use their drug of choice and less likely that they will seek assistance to manage their incurable disease. Hopefully, US Attorney Williams will follow through on his threat to shut them down.

We must break the cycle of the addict’s dependence on drugs, not condone its use.

Bob Capano was a Brooklyn GOP City Council candidate in 2017 for the 43rd District (Bay Ridge). He served in senior level positions to former NYC Members of Congress Vito Fossella and Bob Turner and has been an adjunct instructor of political science for over 15 years. Follow him on Twitter: @bobcapano