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Federally-Funded Study to Test Value of Overdose Prevention Centers

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   May 08, 2023

NYU Langone Health and the Brown University School of Public Health will conduct a five-year study on the effectiveness of OPCs, which give people dealing with substance abuse a safe and supervised place to consume drugs.

NYU Langone Health and Brown University's School of Public Health have been picked to launch a federally funded study of the value of overdose prevention centers (OPCs).

OPCs, also called supervised consumption services (SCS), are designed to provide a sanctioned, safe place for those living with substance abuse issues to consume drugs with sterile equipment under the supervision of trained staff. These centers also stock fentanyl and offer healthcare and counseling services and referrals to other resources.

There are now more than 200 OPCs in 14 countries, though their presence in the US has been met with some criticism. Some have said the centers support substance abuse while not doing enough to help people beat addiction.

The two organizations will receive grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for a five-year program to measure the impact of two of the first publicly funded OPCs in the country. No NIH money will be used to support the centers.

The project seeks to enroll 1,000 participants in what is being called the first study of its kind.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to study the first publicly recognized overdose prevention centers in the country across two different states, as well as the impact on the communities in which they operate,” Magdalena Cerdá, DrPH, a professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, director of its Center for Opioid Epidemiology and Policy, and one of the study’s two lead investigators, said in a press release. “This research is urgently needed to inform policies that can best support public health, as more jurisdictions across the country consider implementing OPCs.”

“The overdose crisis has touched every community across America. From coast to coast and across age, gender, and race/ethnicity—people are dying,” added Brandon DL Marshall, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health and the founding director of the People, Place & Health Collective at Brown University. “This groundbreaking study will help us determine whether and how OPCs are an effective public health tool as part of a more compassionate, evidence-based response to this crisis in the US.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), more than 106,000 people died from overdoses in the US in 2021, the highest number ever recorded and twice as many as had died in 2015.

Through the study, investigators in New York City and Providence, Rhode Island, will:

  • Investigate whether enrolled participants who visit OPCs experience lower rates of fatal or nonfatal overdoses, drug-related health problems, and emergency department visits, and whether they are more likely to enter treatment for substance use disorders compared to people who use drugs but do not visit OPCs.
  • Examine the community impact of OPCs by assessing whether neighborhoods surrounding OPCs experience a greater change in overdoses, public disorder such as drug-related litter, arrests and noise complaints, and economic activity compared to similar neighborhood blocks that do not have an OPC.
  • Estimate the operational costs of OPCs and the potential cost savings to the healthcare and criminal justice systems associated with OPC use.

“Overdose prevention centers have saved lives over the past year,” Ashwin Vasan, MD, PhD, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in the press release. “Their operation in New York City also offers a unique opportunity in the years ahead to learn about their clients, the services offered, and their wider impact on the communities served. We look forward to partnering with NYU Langone, OnPoint, and the State of Rhode Island on a robust, long-term study. The findings, when they’re ready, could have national implications as we all fight the rising tide of overdose deaths in the US."

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.


Overdose deaths topped 106,000 in the US in 2021, a record high and twice the amount of deaths reported in 2015.

Overdose prevention centers give people living with substance abuse issues a place to consumer drugs with clean equipment and supervision and an opportunity to access healthcare and social services and obtain referrals for other resources.

The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, will track as many as 1,000 participants over five years, and will include research on whether OPCs reduce overdose deaths, improve chances for rehabilitation, and boost clinical outcomes.

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