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NY Post
New York Post
15 Apr 2023

NextImg:NYC drug dealers hawk narcotics from van, driving up business for nearby injection sites

Drug dealers in Washington Heights are peddling product out of a sketchy black van — driving up business for a state-sanctioned narcotics shooting gallery only a few blocks away, neighbors and eyewitnesses said.

The apparently illicit deals are going down at the corner of West 178th Street and Audubon Avenue, where a steady stream of junkies walking past fruit sellers and doctors’ offices to reach a beat-up van parked beneath scaffolding.

As a group of young men acts as lookouts from the sidewalk, customers reach into the driver’s-side window to score drugs before bolting down the street, residents say.

“I’ve lived here for 25 years on this block, and I want to move because it’s crazy,” said one long-time resident who works across the street.

The Post last week witnessed one woman with track marks on her hands make an exchange with the man in the van before bee-lining to the OnPoint NYC injection site three blocks away. 

Ten minutes later, the woman was seen heading across the street to Highbridge Park with a friend.

Others who were seen leaving OnPoint that day also entered the park and shot up with fresh needles.  

A woman bolted after her apparent drug exchange.

Since opening the nation’s first “safe injection site” in 2021, OnPoint NYC has offered addicts-sanctioned spaces in Washington Heights and East Harlem to get high under medical supervision.

It also gives users clean paraphernalia to snort or inject their substances of choice, on-site or elsewhere. 

More than 3,100 people have visited OnPoint’s “overdose prevention centers” and used its facilities over 68,000 times since opening in November 2021, according to its website.

The organization said it has prevented nearly 850 overdoses that could have proven fatal. 

OnPoint has said that it relies on private funding because legally it cannot collect taxpayer dollars to run an overdose prevention center.

But The Post previously found that OnPoint’s two precursor nonprofits, New York Harm Reduction Educators and Washington Heights CORNER Project, raked in more than $5 million in city and state funds from 2020 to 2022, which the organization’s head claims is used to cover services offered beyond the “safe [drug] consumption program.”

Neighbors said the Washington Heights location only contributes to the scourge of open-air drug dealing and use, which they say has surged during the pandemic. 

“The center definitely had an effect on the amount of users coming up to Washington Heights,” said one elderly man, who now refuses to go outside after 6 p.m. for fear of his safety.

“They’ve inundated the area, and it’s become garbage in the neighborhood.”

Men loitering outside a van
Neighbors near the injection sight said that the center has contributed to the scourge of open-air drug use and sales in the area.

The man’s daughter, who fled Washington Heights for Park Slope, Brooklyn, two years ago but still visits her dad, added that dealers near OnPoint have been doing brisk business since the injection site’s opening.

“They have a customer base, and it’s more people now,” she said.

“They’re going to be right there to sell [users] the drugs to go into the center and use.”   

Rodrigo Caballero, a former NYPD detective who covered Washington Heights for more than a decade, said that despite the safe injection sites’ efforts to “do good,” they are causing “an eroding effect” by drawing drug activity and accompanying lawlessness in the area that is beyond the staff’s control. 

“[Users] are down on their luck, they have scarce resources, so they’ll engage in activity such as petty crimes, property crimes…to get the resources to pay for that fix,” he said.  

Men loitering outside a van
A group of young men act as lookouts for the van dealers while a stream of customers come through to score drugs.

The Sanitation Department said needle collection has continued to increase in the area, with its workers picking up at least 1,522 needles so far this year in Community Board 12, which includes Washington Heights — nearly double the 871 collected for the same period in 2022.

Narcotics arrests have more than doubled in the 33rd Precinct, which covers parts of Washington Heights below West 179th Street, up to 122 as of April 9, compared to 57 in 2022, according to NYPD data.

Despite locals’ criticisms of the current injection sites operating, Mayor Eric Adams has proposed opening three additional sites by 2025 in neighborhoods, such as the South Bronx. 

OnPoint did not respond to requests for comment.