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Safehouse Prepares to Open Philadelphia Supervised Injection Facility

February 28, 2020

A final ruling issued by a U.S. district judge issued on Tuesday has paved the way for Philadelphia not-for-profit Safehouse to open the first legal supervised injection facility (SIF) in the United States next week.

“With yesterday's decision, we now have the legal authority to open Safehouse,” Ronda Goldfein, the organization’s vice president and co-founder, told assembled media on Wednesday. "This is a medical model.”

The proposed facility has faced pushback from the U.S. Justice Department on the premise that it is tantamount to inviting “thousands of people onto its property for the purpose of injecting illegal drugs,” U.S. attorney for the Eastern District Bill McSwain said, per media reports.

The Justice Department’s argument that Safehouse’s SIF would violate the Controlled Substances Act was rejected by U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh.

The Justice Department said it will appeal the ruling, but Safehouse plans to move forward with opening its first site in South Philadelphia next week, with a second facility in the Kensington neighborhood—an area especially hard hit by the opioid crisis—to follow.

How it will work

According to its website, Safehouse will present participants with rehabilitation options “at multiple points” during a visit. Physical and behavioral health assessments will be conducted, and overdose prevention services will be offered. Drug consumption will be conducted under medical supervision, and participants will be offered initiation of medication-assisted treatment, wound care, and referrals to wrap-around services, such as social services and housing opportunities.

Upon exit, additional patient data will be collected, and patients will again be offered treatment services and provided with naloxone.

Other sites around the world—and in the U.S.

Industry estimates put the number of supervised injection sites currently in operation worldwide around 100. This includes Insite in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, which opened in 2003.

Notably, Safehouse will be the first legal supervised injection facility in the United States, but data released in April 2019 suggests a rogue SIF has been operating in an undisclosed U.S. location since 2014. A researcher from RTI International presented findings at an international harm reduction conference in Portugal, according to a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The researcher told conference attendees that the U.S. facility—which operates by invitation only, given its clandestine nature—had overseen 9,000 injections for 540 participants since opening.

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