U.S. attorney sues to stop supervised injection sites in Philadelphia

By: Jeffrey Lynne February 8, 2019 10:56 am

By: Jeffrey Lynne, Esq. and Laura Stinson, University of Miami School of Law (2L)
February 8, 2019 10:56 am

U.S. attorney sues to stop supervised injection sites in Philadelphia

The Associated Press (AP) has reported that the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia, William McSwain, has filed a federal suit to stop a local non-profit from opening a supervised drug injection site.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the federal courts “to declare illegal the Defendants’ proposed establishment and operation of a place for the unlawful use of controlled substances.”

The case, United States of America v. Safehouse, a Pennsylvania nonprofit, and Jeanette Bowles, as Executive Director, Case No. 2:19-cv-00519-GAM, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania,

According to Mr. McSwain, “Normalizing the use of deadly drugs like heroin and fentanyl is not the answer to solving the epidemic…. For purposes of this action, it does not matter that Safehouse claims good intentions in fighting the opioid epidemic. What matters is that Congress has already determined that Safehouse’s conduct is prohibited by federal law, without any relevant exception.”

Philadelphia has the highest opioid death rate of any large U.S. city, with more than 1,000 deaths per year. In response, Mayor Jim Kenney and others have come to support a nonprofit group’s plan to open a safe injection site.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who’s visited a safe injection program in Vancouver, said McSwain is relying on the failed drug policies of the past. He said workers at the site don’t administer drugs, but instead nudge users if they fall asleep or have trouble breathing and, as a last resort, administer Naloxone.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a fellow Democrat, serves on the board of Safehouse, the nonprofit working to raise $1.8 million to open an injection site this spring. He’s willing to be arrested over the issue, given the overdose death of a 30-year-old family friend.

Rendell also sanctioned the city’s first needle exchange program as Philadelphia mayor in the 1990s. It’s been in place for 26 years without any interference from federal prosecutors, until now.

Editor’s Note: A clear distinction MUST be made and understood between a needle exchange program and a “safe injection site,” the latter of which is what is at issue in Philadelphia.

Either way, and aside from the clear public health concern to avoid the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C from sharing of needles, there have been recent studies confirming that needle exchange sites show positive progress towards making contact with heroin users and providing them with on-site initiation of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), wound care, and referrals to primary care, social services, and housing opportunities that they otherwise would not be aware of.  Original research just published in the November/December 2018 Journal of Addiction Medicine found that 77.5% of participants at needle exchange/injection sites reported interest in getting help to reduce or stop substance use. That study concluded: “Findings point to [syringe exchange programs] as an important venue for treatment engagement, and suggest subgroups who may be targeted for engagement interventions.”

The State of Florida in 2016 amended Florida Statute s. 381.0038 to approve a pilot program through the University of Miami for a needle exchange site, but NOT a safe injection site, which has apparently been so promising that the Palm Beach County Sober Homes Task Force has come out in support of an expansion of the program in 2019 under bills filed by Florida House Reps Jones and Plasencia (HB 171) and in the Florida Senate by Senator Braynon (SB 336) under what is being termed the “Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA)” which seeks to allow other eligible entities aside from the University of Miami to establish such programs. The pilot program under the former law would expire/sunset on July 1, 2021.

HB 171



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