The nonprofit Safehouse will open its first supervised injection site in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania next week. It will be the first space in the U.S. where people struggling with addiction can use opioids and other illegal drugs under the supervision of trained staff armed with the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. The announcement comes one day after U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh, in a final ruling, said the Safehouse proposal doesn’t violate federal drug laws because the intent is to save lives, not encourage drug use.
The planned launch of the facility faces opposition from the Justice Department, the U.S. Surgeon General, and local neighborhood groups. Prosecutors in the court case claimed that the plan violates a provision of the Controlled Substances Act that makes it illegal to own a property where drugs are being used. Bill McSwain, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania, has vowed to appeal the court’s decision.
Safehouse officials say the federal government’s planned appeal will not slow their plans. The city of Philadelphia supports the sites but is not providing any funding. Local police have previously committed to taking a hands-off approach to the site. Volunteers are planning to escort users to the facility in order to shield those wanting to visit the site from protesters or potential law enforcement agents.
The U.S. is in the midst of an overdose epidemic. Nationwide, more than 68,000 people overdosed in 2018. Philadelphia grapples with about 1,100 overdose deaths per year. Supervised injection sites are seen by advocates as a way to reduce the number of deaths.
There are currently more than 200 supervised injection sites operating around the world. They are common in Canada and parts of Europe. The facilities are also being considered by several other U.S. cities, including Seattle, New York, and San Francisco.