Mr. Ortiz, 29, is the “responsible person in charge” — his official title — on the late shift at OnPoint NYC in East Harlem, one of only two openly operating supervised drug consumption sites in the country. He oversees the stuffing of the tips of crack pipes with copper filters, checks off paperwork that lists what illicit drug is being consumed, and cleans up used syringes while wearing a puncture-proof glove.
And most days, at least once, he brings someone back from an overdose, administering oxygen or naloxone to a user who has passed out, working on them until their eyes flutter open.
Once an emergency medical technician on a city ambulance, Mr. Ortiz now works in a liminal legal space. OnPoint is officially sanctioned by the city, but threatened by federal authorities who say the services Mr. Ortiz and his colleagues provide are illegal.OnPoint appears to run afoul of federal law — the so-called crack house statute makes it illegal to maintain a property where illicit drugs are consumed — and has also angered some of its neighbors, who fear the center has brought even more drug activity to an area where it was common long before OnPoint arrived.
“They don’t just do their drugs or get whatever they need there and then go,” said Hallia Baker, 64, a pastor who has lived on East 126th Street since 1976. “They just hang, and here they are.”
Supervised consumption centers have also drawn criticism for what opponents say is effectively enabling drug use. And yet, as more than 100,000 Americans a year continue to die in an opioid crisis that the nation has struggled to contain, some leaders have embraced a movement known as “harm reduction” to help users do drugs more safely.
Photographed for The New York Times, with words by Sharon OttermanHis Job Helping Drug Users Is Illegal. He Says He Does It to Save Lives.
Bryan Ortiz quit a job as a paramedic to help people at a safe injection site for drugs like fentanyl and heroin. Now, his job is under legal threat.