Opioid addiction is a distressing epidemic that affects countless people worldwide. According to data from 2018, opioid overdose claims the lives of 128 people every day in the United States alone. Given the dramatically increasing rates of opioid use and abuse, this number has likely risen over the past year. Injection drug use has severely affected the lives of many Americans: plunging people into addiction, claiming lives, increasing homelessness and crime and facilitating the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.
Supervised injection sites have sprung up to address some of the harms associated with injection drugs. Already in Canada and some European countries, these locations offer a safe space for addicts to inject themselves with illegal substances such as heroin and cocaine. Injection sites are equipped with clean needles, addiction treatments and staff trained to aid in the event of overdose. Their goals include preventing potential deaths and diseases contracted from injection drug use, as well as encouraging the promotion of addiction treatment and rehabilitation.
Opponents of injection sites in the United States argue the establishments encourage the use of illegal drugs and are illegal themselves. Prosecutors in the U.S. Justice Department therefore claim that the opening of these safe sites would be a violation of the Controlled Substance Act, the goal of which is to close crack houses. This has led to many drawn-out legal battles between such critics and groups wishing to open safe sites.
Despite this opposition, Philadelphia made headlines last month as the first city in the United States to obtain approval to open a supervised injection site. Following two years of legal deliberations, a federal judge ruled that such a facility would not violate federal laws; this decision effectively granted the nonprofit Safehouse permission to open their safe injection site. However, the victory was short-lived, as the decision was met with swift opposition.
Following Safehouse’s announcement of a supervised injection site to be opened in South Philadelphia, a highly commercial and residential area, locals immediately protested. Philadelphians had expected the site to open in Kensington, an area known as a hotspot for opioid addiction, homelessness and crime. As a result, Safehouse’s lease was cancelled and the opening of the injection site has been put on hold indefinitely.
Furthermore, the Philadelphia City Council is attempting to pass a bill that would make it all but impossible for Safehouse to ever open a safe injection site in the city. The bill would label the sites as “nuisance health establishments,” thus mandating an extensive public approval process that would likely bar the opening of any future sites.
The resistance to the opening of a safe injection site has the potential to cause more harm than the opening itself. While it has not been directly proven that injection sites reduce crime or homelessness rates, no death has ever occurred at a safe site. Studies conducted on existing locations in Canada found that the sites did not encourage drug use and in fact helped to prevent potential deaths. People who went to the sites were less likely to partake in behaviors with high risk of HIV contraction and more likely to seek out detox and rehabilitation.
Perhaps most importantly, these sites simply provide a safe environment where drug addicts are welcomed and not judged. For these reasons, the so-called “city of brotherly love” would benefit from creating this refuge for a population that is so greatly in need of assistance.
Veronica Eskander is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.