NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Experts say deadly overdoses have reached alarming levels during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, a group of advocates called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to move forward with the plan of opening controversial supervised injection sites, CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported.

For Asia Betancourt, the pandemic has been marked by death, not from COVID, from but drug overdoses. When asked how many people she has seen overdose or die during the pandemic, she said. “I’m at 24.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were more than 81,000 drug overdoses nationwide from May 2019 to 2020, the highest death toll ever recorded in a year.

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City health officials say preliminary data follows the trend that has been exacerbated by the pandemic and a higher prevalence of drugs laced with the potent opioid fentanyl.

A coalition of advocacy groups are calling on the governor to uphold a plan he supported in 2018.

“The safe injection sites are something I think we should look at,” Cuomo said during that year’s gubernatorial debate.

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The state was exploring implementing controversial safe injection sites, also known as overdose prevention centers, that allow illegal drug use to occur with medical supervision as a pilot program, which Mayor Bill de Blasio applied for.

There are currently numerous supervised injection sites in Canada and Europe. While New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia have attempted to create something similar, sites currently do not exist anywhere in the United States.

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In a statement, the state Department of Health acknowledged the benefit of the sites, but said, “We are waiting for legal clarity from the U.S. Department of Justice before we can consider opening similar facilities here.” This after lawsuits were filed in different states.

With the tainted drug supply, substance misusers like Betancourt say time is not on their side.

“It’s linking them to safety, treating them like they’re human beings. And you know what? Eventually, they will feel comfortable to the point where they’ll say, well, maybe we’ll take that next step,” Betancourt said.

Which could be to treatment.

In the meantime, the city has expanded access to treatment and increased naloxone distribution that includes making the overdose reversal drug available in designated vending machines.

Aundrea Cline-Thomas