A federal judge is considering a plan to allow the opening of the nation’s first supervised drug injection site in Philadelphia.
U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh Jr. listened last week to arguments supporting and opposing a plan for Safehouse, the nonprofit seeking to operate an injection site in the city’s drug-ravaged Kensington section.
Supervised injection sites are also being considered in other cities including Seattle, New York, San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts.
Under the Philadelphia plan, the nonprofit Safehouse would help people struggling with addiction. They could bring drugs to the clinic-like setting, use them in a partitioned bay and receive medical help if they overdose. Safehouse would provide drug users with clean needles and ties and let them use their own drugs in the presence of medical staff. Injection site supporters believe it will also provide a trusted place for them to be offered treatment.
There would be medical staff observing an overdose reaction if one was to occur and then provide medical care, said Jose Benitez, who leads a nonprofit that runs a needle exchange program and other health services.
The plan has strong political support including Mayor Jim Kenney, District Attorney Larry Krasner and former Gov. Ed Rendell, all Democrats.
But supporters of the injection site plan are well-intentioned, but wrong. There is a better way to reduce the city’s 1,100 annual overdose deaths.
The focus has to be on helping to steer users into treatment and not enable the use of illegal and harmful drugs.
The plan invites people to use drugs on property sanctioned by the government.
“I think that it would be engaging in make-believe to say the purpose of Safehouse is to stop people from engaging in drugs,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain in his arguments against injection sites. “Certainly, the purpose of the people coming to the facility is to use drugs.”
In deciding whether injection sites are a good idea, advocates should answer the following questions:
Where is the scientific evidence that injection sites lead people into treatment?
How will this not lead to the normalization of serious drug use?
Since users will be anonymous, how do you prevent minors from using drugs in injection sites? If suspected minors do not show proof of age when asked, will they still be allowed to shoot up?
Encouraging the open use of dangerous drugs undermines efforts to dissuade addicts and normalizes usage. It sends a message of societal surrender, of giving up on people who have become addicted.
The court should rule against injection sites and there should be an appeal if it prevails.