You may have been hearing in the news, or perhaps read my last article, regarding the safe injection site that is being debated in Philadelphia. There was a recent development in the legal case of the United States versus Safehouse.
What is Safehouse?
Safehouse is a project that has been debated legally in the city of Philadelphia to integrate a safe-injection site. A safe injection site is a medical facility that provides medical supervision to individuals whom use illicit drugs. This is the reason for the legal contest and popular opinion to vary regarding the site. The intention of the site according to their web page is to provide individuals who are using illicit drugs means by which to use in an environment that provides sterile needles, access to social workers, referrals to treatment programs, and other resources that may help the individual in a myriad of ways. The hope is to engage with individuals in a way that promotes harm reduction. Harm reduction acknowledges that drug use occurs and aims to reduce risk of lethal overdose or other medical complication, (spread of transmittable disease or other result of use) in a hope to preserve lives.
So wait…It helps people use?
Not quite. The site is not a legally sanctioned place where people can use drugs. It is also not a place to “remove the consequences of use” as this is often a criticism I have heard. The use of drugs can result in things that are consequential and can be motivation for the individual to change. If, however, they die, those consequences are lost on them, as is the opportunity to change. The Safehouse and the idea of harm reduction is to allow individuals to reduce instances of transmitting diseases or having other medical results of drug use. This compassionate approach has been introduced in Europe as well as in Canada with success rates highlighted in my previous article. The use of resources and referrals to treatment occurred at higher rates for those who used the sites in other countries.
So what happened today?
A U.S. District Court Judge, Gerald McHugh, has ruled that Safehouse does not violate a law passed to prevent “crack houses” as the intention of the non-profit is to save lives and provide assistance rather than encourage drug use. No drugs will be sold at the site. Individuals who intend to use the site to use the drugs they find elsewhere would be provided with clean needles and a method to dispose of them as well as other sterile steps. They will also have access to medical and social work staff to assist with issues surrounding their use or find other ways to address their use should they elect to stop.
What are people saying and what happens next?
A Safehouse board member, Rhonda Goldfein, reported that she was pleased with the ruling and the plans to open a site in south Philadelphia in the following week. The Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and the District Attorney Larry Krasner are reported to be in support of the site as a means to address the opiate crisis occurring in the city and beyond in the country at large. The US attorney who was addressing the case against Safehouse, William McSwain, in the lawsuit may appeal to a higher court and it could result in being discussed in the Supreme Court.
You can read the document from the court ruling today here