A Philadelphia not-for-profit group’s plans to open the first supervised injection facility in the United States have cleared a major legal hurdle after a U.S. district court ruled this week that the facility does not violate federal drug laws.
Safehouse, a not-for-profit corporation that provides a range of overdose prevention services, is seeking to open a site that will include rooms for the consumption of illegal opioids under the supervision of medical staff who are prepared to administer overdose reversal medication as needed. U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh ruled the proposal does not violate the Controlled Substances Act.
“Although the language, taken to its broadest extent, can certainly be interpreted to apply to Safehouse’s proposed safe injection site, to attribute such meaning to the legislators who adopted the language is illusory,” McHugh wrote in his ruling. “Safe injection sites were not considered by Congress and could not have been, because their use as a possible harm reduction strategy among opioid users had not yet entered public discourse.”
The lawsuit against Safehouse was filed by Eastern District of Pennsylvania of the U.S. Justice Department, with a district attorney referring to the project as “in-your-face illegal activity.” Federal officials are expected to appeal Wednesday’s ruling.
Despite the decision, Safehouse faces additional obstacles to opening the supervised injection site. According to a report by NPR, community activists in the Philadelphia neighborhood where the facility is planned are still opposing the project.
In a lengthy statement posted to its website, the Harm Reduction Coalition, a national advocacy organization whose mission is to advance harm reduction policies, practices and programs, lauded the court’s ruling.
“The ruling in United States vs. Safehouse exposes the bankruptcy of the Department of Justice’s stance: doubling down on the criminalization of drug use will not save us from the overdose epidemic, and only serves to divide communities and push people at risk even further into harm’s way,” the coalition said in its statement.
As of 2016, approximately 100 supervised injection facilities were in operation in 66 cities around the world. The first SIF in North America, located Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, opened in 2003. New York, Denver and Seattle are among other U.S. cities weighing similar projects.