Since 2010, Pennsylvania has been found to have a higher rate of overdose deaths than the national average, as well as an opioid prescribing rate that is above or level with the national average. Philadelphia, in particular, has been struggling. In the city alone, the number of fatal drug overdoses doubled from 2013 to 2015 with 80% of these deaths involving opioids.2 With such alarming numbers, the city is desperate to find a solution. Could safe injection sites in Philadelphia be the answer?
From Pennsylvania’s Drug Monitoring Program to Narcan in Philadelphia, the city has taken numerous steps to try and combat these numbers, but there is still more to be done to make a significant dent. A debate on the availability of suboxone in Pennsylvania is currently being discussed by state representatives, but a nonprofit in Philadelphia has gone one step further.
Focused on overdose prevention services, Safehouse wants to open the nation’s first supervised drug injection site. Their idea is to open multiple safe injection sites in Philadelphia where people can use drugs such as heroin or other opioids with medical supervision. With medical professionals present, the hope is to reduce the number of drug overdoses as well as promote social services like addiction treatment in Philadelphia to those who come in. Those for the sites argue that nothing has worked significantly thus far, so drastic and innovative measures need to be taken. Supporters of the idea include the Mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney; the former Pennsylvania Governor, Ed Rendell; and the Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner, all of whom are on the board for Safehouse.
Not everyone agrees with Safehouse’s views. U.S. Attorney William McSwain along with the Trump administration has filed a lawsuit against the nonprofit to try and prevent them from opening such locations. They argue that while Safehouse has good intentions, such an establishment is breaking the law of owning a property where drugs are used. They also fear that such a place would be promoting drug abuse instead of stopping it.
In response to the federal lawsuit, Safehouse along with its teams of pro bono lawyers has countersued. They argue that these drug laws should not be applied to a medical facility like their proposed safe injection sites in Philadelphia, especially when the opioid crisis has gotten so out of control. Originally, Safehouse had scouted locations around the city for their safe injection sites and even started lease negotiations in Kensington, a Philadelphia neighborhood that has seen some of the worst effects of the opioid crisis. Now with the messy legal battle that lays ahead, their progress will stall. Time will tell if these safe injection sites will come to fruition or be forgotten.
At Banyan Philadelphia, we have watched the devastation that opioids have on our patients as well as our community. It is important to get help for yourself or your loved one if you are struggling with these drugs. Our Philly opioid treatment center is designed to help patients get their lives back on track.