By Virginia K. Smith
Back in November, we wrote about the ongoing scourge of bouncers confiscating naloxone — aka Narcan, aka overdose-reversal medication that prevents people from dying — at some of the city’s biggest nightlife venues. Since then, a few things have happened.
For one, last week the New York Times, uh, let’s say, “picked up” the exact same story about the exact same venues and the exact same incidents (or maybe thought of it at the same time as The Groove and took a full six extra weeks to report out a straightforward metro piece? Who’s to say).
More importantly, the issue is getting some attention from local officials, most notably City Councilmember Lincoln Restler, who told The Groove in a statement, “Our office is contacting venues in our community to help destigmatize Narcan and ensure they understand that New Yorkers can legally carry Narcan and that it should never be confiscated. We are experiencing an overdose epidemic and Narcan saves lives.”
Elsewhere, Bluestockings Cooperative Bookstore on the Lower East Side is facing eviction, Curbed reported in late December, with a notice from their landlord citing violations including “unauthorized use of the premises as a medical facility,” seemingly a response to their on-site Narcan trainings and distribution of supplies like naloxone and fentanyl test strips.
This in spite of the fact that Bluestockings works in partnership with the New York State Department of Health’s harm reduction efforts, and as we’ve said before, the city’s health department specifically encourages every single person in New York City to carry naloxone with them as a matter of public health. Does this mean every bar that hosts a Narcan training or every individual who has a kit in their apartment constitutes an illegal, evict-able medical facility?
Presumably not, but it doesn’t mean ill-informed and/or ill-intentioned landlords might not use it as an excuse to hassle tenants or threaten eviction. A rep for the Department of Small Business Services (which now also runs the Office of Nightlife) told The Groove via email that at their training sessions for bars, restaurants and nightclubs, their staff specifically notes the fact that harm-reduction tools like Narcan and fentanyl test strips are both legal to possess and distribute, and not considered drug paraphernalia under State law.
(Staff at Bluestockings could not be reached for comment, but are reportedly now working with the city’s Commercial Lease Assistance Program to come to some sort of resolution with their landlord.)
At the same time all this is happening, Mayor Eric Adams held a press conference last week at Bushwick nightclub Paragon for a fairly nothingburger announcement of a new approach to nightlife enforcement that will replace a wildly unpopular Giuliani-era system of raids, but will still be led by the NYPD, per Hell Gate’s rundown of the whole thing.
During the conference, Adams highlighted the importance of nightlife to the city’s economy and the importance of “changing the way we engage with nightlife businesses [by] focusing on compliance and education.”
Part of that education, it would seem, still needs to be focused on catching up landlords, venues, security teams, and private citizens in positions of power on the actual law when it comes to harm reduction tools like Narcan, an issue we plan to keep a close eye on in the new year. (And if anyone who falls into the above categories happens to be reading this: here’s the health department’s latest advisory on overdose prevention, act accordingly, please.)
As it stands, there are still too many people who think the mere presence of naloxone in their business might get them sued, or somehow imply that they’re condoning illegal drug use on the premises. And whether it might prevent a fellow New Yorker from dying? Well, that’s less of a concern.