Addiction & Overdose

Leading with Compassion: A Conversation with Sam Rivera

November 9, 2023

Sam Rivera, the executive director of OnPoint NYC, manages two overdose prevention centers--the first to open in the country in 2021--where skilled and trained professionals monitor drug consumption on-site to make sure users have access to safe syringes, drug testing, and counseling. Through these centers, Rivera aims to curb adverse outcomes among people who use drugs or engage in sex work by providing holistic resources, tools, and the support they need to enhance the quality of their lives. 

Journey to Harm Reduction

Rivera's expertise was shaped by his personal experiences and a deep sense of compassion instilled in him by his mother, a nurse with over 40 years of service in New York City. His early work began in a challenging environment, volunteering support to fellow incarcerated individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS. 

After his release, Rivera continued his career in helping individuals in marginalized and stigmatized communities across the city, ultimately joining OnPoint in 2020. Rivera emphasizes that his clients are “beautiful, smart, and kind individuals who deserve to be treated with respect and compassion at all stages of their lives.” This perspective is at the core of OnPoint NYC's mission and is reflected in the organization's commitment to harm reduction.

Shaping the Future: Using Public Health Principles in Harm Reduction

When thinking about the future of public health, Rivera urges decision-makers to utilize data. OnPoint NYC is actively involved in a research study on the efficacy of Overdose Prevention Centers in collaboration with organizations like the National Institute on Drug Abuse, New York University, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. This study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of overdose prevention centers as a public health tool in saving lives and connecting historically underserved individuals with a network of programs and services for long-term stabilization. 

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