Trump Administration: Proposed Supervised Injection Facilities May Face Legal Action

By Victoria Kim 02/27/18
One DEA official said the government rejects the notion that the facilities promote recovery.
Donald Trump

A handful of U.S. cities are working on establishing supervised injection facilities (SIFs), but despite having the support of city officials, they may face one major obstacle: the federal government.

BuzzFeed News reports that this month, a DEA official made it clear that the Trump administration does not support SIFs, and may go after the sites if cities like San Francisco and Seattle go through with plans to open them.

“Supervised injection facilities, or so-called safe injection sites, violate federal law,” Katherine Pfaff, a DEA spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News. “Any facilitation of illicit drug use is considered in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and, therefore, subject to legal action.”

San Francisco, Seattle, and Philadelphia have all approved SIFs. Other cities like Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Ithaca and New York City have expressed interest in exploring the issue.

San Francisco city officials announced plans to open two sites by the summer. “I understand the misgivings around it and some of the rhetoric from people who don’t support it,” said Mayor Mark Farrell. “But we absolutely need to give it a try.”

There are currently no legal SIFs operating in the United States, while more than 120 facilities exist abroad in Canada, Australia, Switzerland, and more. The point of the facilities is to save lives, get drug use off the streets, and offer recovery support to people seeking help.

“There is an opioid epidemic in this country that has been recognized by the federal government,” said Rachael Kagan of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “We are mounting a local response and our main concern is to save lives.”

However, the sites remain illegal under federal law. The DEA’s Pfaff said the government rejects the notion that the facilities “promote recovery” or help people get well.

She cited a 1986 law that was drafted to ban crack houses, which “prohibits any person or entity from maintaining or providing access to a drug-involved premises, such as knowingly opening, leasing, renting or otherwise operating any facility for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance.”

But Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, of King County in Washington, isn’t fazed. “We would argue it is a real stretch to apply the crack house statute to a public health intervention—and purpose and intent are always important in criminal law,” he told BuzzFeed. “Clearly our purpose here is to save lives and reduce harm.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle, which resides in King County, already dedicated $1.3 million for one site, which would be run by the county health department.

Satterberg welcomes a legal battle with the federal government. “The Justice Department could threaten to bring a civil action or criminal action against us,” he told BuzzFeed. “But we think it will be an opportunity to convince the court that local health powers are superior to criminal statutes that ban private drug dens for profit.”

In 2016, the CDC recorded more than 64,000 drug-related deaths, with more than 42,000 deaths involving opioids.

Pennsylvania has one of the highest drug overdose death rates; it had the fourth-highest of all the states in 2016—with a rate of 37.9 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents. The state is in need of a solution.

“We are not going to be dispensing drugs ourselves or providing drugs for users,” said Alicia Taylor of Philadelphia Health and Human Services. “Right now we don’t see an obstacle. It’s worth exploring, because we’re trying to save lives.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr