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‘Don’t be ashamed you are using, be empowered that you are using safely’: NYC Health Department issues eyebrow-raising ad about drug use

A New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene ad about drug use features a statement in quotes that declares, “Don’t be ashamed you are using, be empowered that you are using safely” — the quote appears to be attributed to an individual named “Florence.”

“Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that can be found in heroin, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, ketamine, and pressed pills,” the health department explains on the poster. “Fentanyl increases the risk of overdose especially among people who do not regularly use opioids.”

u201cFriend who lives in Manhattan sends pic of this subway ad courtesy of the NYC Dept of Health. Heroin addiction — it’s empowering!u201d

— Noah Pollak (@Noah Pollak)
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The ad provides suggestions about how to avoid an overdose — among the tips, the department suggests that people “Avoid using alone and take turns,” “Start with a small dose and go slowly,” and “Test your drugs using fentanyl test strips.”

New York City council minority leader Joe Borelli expressed his disapproval on social media. “No, @nycHealthy, heroin addiction is not empowering,” he tweeted. “This is the opposite of ‘harm reduction.’ This normalizes injecting deadly life-changing drugs,” he wrote. “This is twisted.”

u201cNo, @nycHealthy, heroin addiction is not empoweringnnThis is the opposite of u201charm reduction.u201d This normalizes injecting deadly life-changing drugsnnu201cavoid using aloneu201d ud83eudd14 nnu201cStart w small dosesu201d ud83dudc40 nnu201cUsing safelyu201d ud83dude33nnThis is twistednnDid you approve this @NYCHealthCommr?u201d

— Joe Borelli (@Joe Borelli)
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The Florida Department of Health tweeted, “This ain’t it, @nychealthy.”

“Our country is failing,” Mollie Hemingway tweeted.

“No, please be ashamed you are using; seek help; and stop before you kill yourself and break your family’s heart,” Harmeet Dhillon tweeted.

But while many criticized the ad, others argued in favor of the message it conveys.

“Shame is a useless emotion that often keeps ppl from investing in themselves or others. We should be celebrating ppl who are taking the steps in this poster and encouraging those who are not, to adopt these practices. Thanks @nycHealthy for contributing to ppl’s self worth,” Kassandra Frederique tweeted — New York City Department of Health spokesman Patrick Gallahue retweeted Frederique’s post.

“Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency, or be disguised as highly potent heroin. Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl – which often results in overdose deaths.”