Proposed Safe-Injection Site in Philadelphia Found Illegal by Federal Appeals Court

In this Aug. 29, 2018 file photo, Linda Montel shows off supplies on a check in desk at Safer Inside, a realistic model of a safe injection site in San Francisco.

In this Aug. 29, 2018 file photo, Linda Montel shows off supplies on a check in desk at Safer Inside, a realistic model of a safe injection site in San Francisco. AP Photo/Eric Risberg

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 decision that found a plan to open the nation’s first supervised drug injection site violates a federal law passed to shut down crack houses.

A federal appeals court has blocked a nonprofit’s effort to open the nation’s first supervised injection site in Philadelphia, ruling that while admirable, the public health initiative breaks a federal law meant to shutter drug dens.   

The 2-1 decision from the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals is a major setback for Safehouse, the nonprofit. The group hoped to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths in the city by operating a site where medical professionals could supervise people’s drug use.  

“Though the opioid crisis may call for innovative solutions, local innovations may not break federal law,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas in the court’s opinion issued Tuesday. “Because Safehouse knows and intends that its visitors will come with a significant purpose of doing drugs, its safe-injection site will break the law.”

The court found that the Safehouse plan violated a federal drug law, adopted in 1986 amid the nation’s crack epidemic, that enabled prosecutors to go after unscrupulous property owners who allowed their buildings to be used as drug dens.

The decision reverses a lower court ruling that found there was “no support for the view that Congress meant to criminalize projects such as that proposed by Safehouse.”

The Safehouse project had the backing of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, but plans for opening the site fell apart last year amid disagreements over its location.

The U.S. Justice Department applauded the ruling. U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, William McSwain, said the court’s decision “is consistent with Congress’s intent to protect American neighborhoods from the scourge of concentrated drug use.”

Safehouse’s vice president, Ronda Goldfein, said she is considering the nonprofit’s legal options, which could include an appeal to the Third Circuit’s full bench of judges or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We remain confident that the law was not intended to force Americans to stand by as idle witnesses while our brothers and sisters are dying,” Goldfein said. “Conscience compels us to pursue all legal options. This case is not over by any means.”

While the Safehouse decision scuttles what would have been the first supervised injection site in the United States, the idea has gained traction in other cities seeking to reduce fatal drug overdoses. The Drug Policy Alliance noted that other jurisdictions are not bound by the Third Circuit decision.

“Advocates across the country—from San Francisco to New York City—should continue to work toward authorization and implementation of supervised consumption sites to address the overdose crisis in their cities and states,” said Lindsey LaSalle, managing director of the policy for the organization.

Drug overdoses have surged in the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic, with 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurring in the 12-month period ending in May 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths involving synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, increased 38% during that time.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield in a statement issued last month about the increase.

Despite Safehouse’s “laudable” goal to reduce fatal drug overdoses, Bibas wrote that it was not the court’s job to decide whether the group’s plan was wise. Instead, he said Congress would have to change the law.

“Congress has chosen one rational approach to reducing drug use and trafficking: a flat ban,” he wrote. “We cannot rewrite the statute. Only Congress can.”

In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Jane Richards Roth called the ruling “absurd” and said that under the court’s narrow interpretation of the law, parents who took the harm-reduction measure of allowing an addicted child to use drugs in the home rather than on the street could be prosecuted.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

NEXT STORY: Farmers Can be Isolated and Unsure How to Seek Support. One State is Trying to Help.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.