“They’re dope refugees. They’re looking for a better life,” said Dimitri Mugianis, a counselor in NYC.
Whether you are seeking recovery or a place to score drugs, New York has it all. According to people interviewed by the The New York Times, many have been coming to the big city—and staying more often—to find what they couldn’t at home: harm reduction services, recovery support, or more drugs.
The New York Times interviewed about three dozen people living on the streets near major transit hubs—Penn Station and Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) in Midtown Manhattan and Jamaica Station in Queens—to explore the growing visibility of drug use and homelessness surrounding these places.
On its own, New York has had a pretty significant drug problem throughout the five boroughs, but as reporter Annie Correal observed, the problem is most visible around these parts. Ambulances, people who are in “critical condition,” panhandling or sleeping on the street are common.
However, according to Denise Paone, senior director of research and surveillance of the city’s Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Use Prevention, only 1% of the total 1,487 fatal overdoses in New York in 2017 occurred at Penn Station, PABT or Jamaica Station.
But drug users, harm reduction advocates and paramedics reported to the NYT that the drug problem is indeed growing in these areas, due in part to the increasing number of people who come to the city for this reason.
“They’re dope refugees. They’re looking for a better life,” said Dimitri Mugianis, a local counselor at New York Harm Reduction Educators. Mugianis explained that NYC is not just a place to score cheaper drugs, but where people can access recovery support like syringe exchange programs and medication-assisted treatment.
“There’s more resources for us here,” said Grace Cohen, a 19-year-old woman who came to New York with her boyfriend from Georgia. They submitted an application to a family shelter in the area, but are sleeping on the street until they are approved.
Five Years Ago
The Midtown Manhattan landscape surrounding Penn Station and PABT, and the area around Jamaica Station in Queens, has seen more drug users who are coming to New York and staying, when in the past they would go home at the end of the day. According to the people interviewed by the NYT, the first wave came from Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut about five years ago. Many of them were struggling with prescription opioid and heroin abuse.
Now, longtime residents of the Midtown Manhattan area report being squeezed out of panhandling earnings as more people descend on the area seeking better drugs or a better future.