Today, at a 10:30 press conference, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will be announcing the filing of a federal civil action for declaratory relief against Safehouse, the proposed operator of a supervised consumption site in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Supervised consumption sites, also known as overdose prevention programs, provide a safe space for people to consume pre-obtained drugs in controlled settings under the supervision of trained staff and with access to sterile consumption equipment. Participants can also receive health care, counseling, and referrals to health and social services, including drug treatment.
Though the Safehouse program has yet to open, the U.S. Attorney is seeking a judgement of the court that such implementation would be illegal under federal law. Despite prior warnings, it is the first federal attempt to legally thwart the growing state momentum for the authorization and implementation of supervised consumption sites.
Statement by Lindsay LaSalle, Director of Public Health Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance:
“States and municipalities have the authority to legally authorize and implement supervised consumption sites in furtherance of public health goals, including prevention of drug overdose deaths and transmission of infectious diseases. We need only look to legalization of cannabis as an example of the state’s power to depart from federal drug laws and enforcement priorities in favor of the promotion of public health. The federal government initially attempted to interfere with state and local syringe exchange and medical cannabis programs, but hindsight has proved they were on the wrong side of science and history. And, they will be here as well.
“Supervised consumption sites have been in operation in Europe since the 1980s and in Canada since 2003—there are now over 120 sites operating worldwide. Supervised consumption sites have been rigorously evaluated and are proven to prevent and reduce overdose deaths among clients, increase client enrollment in drug treatment services, reduce nuisances associated with public injection, such as discarded needles and public intoxication, and save public resources. The American Medical Association has stated its support for implementation of this scientifically sound life-saving intervention. The current overdose crisis mandates that states and municipalities be allowed to consider this proven solution—over 70,000 people, including over 5,400 in Pennsylvania, needlessly died of an overdose in 2017. The federal government should not attempt to obstruct the ability of a city or state to effectively address the deaths in their own backyard. The lawsuit filed by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will undoubtedly cost people their lives in a city that has already been devastated by loss.”