Safe Injection Site In Philadelphia Ruled Federally Legal By Judge

By Lindsey Weedston 10/04/19

The ruling goes against the wishes of the US Justice Department, which sued to stop the facility from opening.

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judge in Philadelphia issuing the ruling

A federal judge has ruled that a planned supervised injection site, where individuals can go to use illicit drugs safely under medical supervision, does not violate U.S. federal law. This has opened the door for the city of Philadelphia, where the facility in question would be located, to host the first legal safe injection site in the country.

"Crackhouse Statute" Does Not Apply

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, U.S. District Judge Gerald A. McHugh ruled on Wednesday that a 30-year-old law created to address what was commonly referred to as “crack houses” does not apply to the safe injection site proposed by the non-profit organization Safehouse.

"The ultimate goal of Safehouse's proposed operation is to reduce drug use, not facilitate it," McHugh wrote in the document explaining his decision.

The ruling goes against the wishes of the U.S. Justice Department, which sued to stop the facility from opening. The government argued that the drugs that would be used are dangerous and the act of using them is illegal.

"This is in-your-face illegal activity using some of the most deadly, dangerous drugs that are on the streets. We have a responsibility to step in," said U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain in February. "It's saying, 'Safehouse, we think this is illegal. Stop what you're doing.’”

Saving Lives, Not Encouraging Drug Use

However, the Safehouse lawyers have argued that the purpose of a safe injection site, also referred to as overdose prevention sites, is to save lives and encourage the individuals who frequent it to get into addiction treatment.

“I dispute the idea that we’re inviting people for drug use. We’re inviting people to stay to be proximal to medical support,” said Ilana Eisenstein, chief attorney for Safehouse, in September.

Multiple studies on safe injection sites, including those that have opened across Europe and in Canada, show that they reduce the number of overdose deaths in the area without resulting in an increase in overall illicit drug use.

They also lessen the spread of dangerous viruses such as HIV and hepatitis by offering clean needles and a place to safely dispose of used ones. These successes have led the American Medical Association to endorse the bringing of these sites to the U.S. However, the Justice Department is determined to continue the fight.

"The Department of Justice remains committed to preventing illegal drug injection sites from opening," said McSwain. "Today's opinion is merely the first step in a much longer legal process that will play out. This case is obviously far from over."

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston