͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ 
Is this email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.
Greater Harlem Coalition Logo

March 22, 2023



The Lure

Tourists have long travelled across international borders or within a country to obtain drugs for either medicinal (cheaper prescription drugs) or recreational use. Depending on the legal threat, it can be easy for tourists, users, and dealers to obtain drugs in these locations.

Drug tourism is defined as "… the phenomenon by which persons become attracted to a particular location because of the accessibility of licit or illicit drugs and related services.”

Drug tourism has been closely linked with a number of cities and countries around the world. Amsterdam, for example, where drug tourism has long been popular in the historic center of

the city, took advantage of permissive regulations on cannabis. Even though cannabis is illegal for nationals, it had been sold through select coffee shops in the city, predominantly in and around the historic center. This area attracted vacationers interested in ingesting cannabis during their holiday. In addition to the Netherlands, other countries that have had a mixed relationship with drug tourism include Portugal, Thailand, Colombia, among others. In the United States, tourists travel across state lines, or even within city neighborhoods, to destinations that have more lax regulations or enforcement related to possession of drugs. Drug tourists will often seek out neighborhoods that offer more open-air drug use and purchase. Drug tourism destinations can provide an accepting environment for those seeking to use drugs regardless of purpose and intention.


Community Impact

Drug tourism can be attractive to host countries that benefit from the additional revenue for its hospitality industry. However, drug tourism has a potent downside. There are repercussions to attracting visitors from around the world who seek a party atmosphere and a good time. These visitors often create an undesirable environment for the local residents.

Amsterdam. Image Credit:Sander.v.Ginkel, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

During the slowdown of the pandemic, Amsterdam residents and city officials prepared a reevaluation of the broader impact of drug tourism on the local community. They witnessed their city, particularly the historic center, an area characterized by cobbled-stone streets, canals, historic town houses and cultural buildings, without the intense influx of tourists seeking out the coffee shops. They took a fresh look at quality of life issues for the residents. This resulted in the decision to reclaim areas of the old city with the intention of reforming its image as a drug tourism destination.


Amsterdam welcomes tourists, it invites tourists to enjoy its history, its built environment and rich cultural heritage, but the drug tourism brought unwanted behaviors and disrupted the residential and work life of Amsterdammers. Residents became tired of the filth, the partying, “from puking stoners to prostitute stalkers.” Some residents protested by posting photos of themselves with the notice, "I Live Here." In addition, residents continually reported numerous instances of tourists urinating, defecating, and vomiting on resident streets and sidewalks after a night of imbibing a bit too much of cannabis, drugs, and alcohol. The Municipality of Amsterdam decided to ban the smoking of marijuana on the streets and other measures in an effort to reduce the consumption.

Read the full CNN article HERE


Drug Tourism or Drug Commuting?

Image description

East Harlem and Harlem are disproportionately impacted by the oversaturation of drug treatment programs.  The density of these programs far exceeds local/resident need, and instead the numerous methadone clinics and OnPoint's Supervised Injection Site, serve people from other neighborhoods, even other cities. 

In the past few years, residents have reported a dramatic increase in open-air drug use, drug dealing, public urination and defecation, petty crimes, and syringes left as waste on the sidewalks, streets and in the park. These behaviors and actions have notably altered the quality of life of residents of this neighborhood. 

Are East Harlem and Harlem experiencing a different type of drug tourism?

In his blog post entitled “Taking Back Harm Reduction,” David Preston, a Seattle-based advocate for better solutions to the problems of homelessness and addiction, adds another dimension to the problem of drug tourism.  He writes... 

Decriminalization of narcotics has happened in a piecemeal way around the country, which has led to drug tourism, where drug users migrate from more restrictive states to less restrictive ones to get drugs cheaper and with less legal risk. Cannabis, which is now fully legal in 21 states, is a good example of how this works. States where recreational marijuana is fully legal, such as Washington and Colorado, have documented the phenomenon of cannabis tourism, which they see as a boon, since the trade is taxed and generates additional economic activity. Narcotics tourism is happening in these two states in much same way, except that narcotics tourism is an economic drain, since the tourists tend to stay on and live on the streets, creating a burden in the form of added medical expenses, crime and court costs, and decreased quality of life for the hosts. Drug destigmatization can lead to drug normalization, which causes harm to society by lowering the quality of life in areas where drug use is prevalent. It causes harm to drug users by leading them to believe that drug use is a sustainable, low-risk activity and a valid lifestyle choice."

Read the full-text of the blog post here.

What needs to be done to administer the best care and treatment for drug addiction without negative impact on select neighborhoods? What needs to be done to regulate open air drug use and dealing in residential neighborhoods? What needs to be done to be respectful of the communities that have been inundated with treatment centers and programs with little input on the resulting and devastating repercussions? What needs to be done about these programs that attract populations from outside of the resident community? 

Drug tourism comes in many forms -- and Harlem is experiencing an unintended impact from policies trying to address the opioid crisis in Manhattan and the country. 

Greater Harlem Coalition posted the following map which visualizes where people attending Harlem and East Harlem opioid treatment centers live and commute from.

If you want to unsubscribe, click here.