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The First Legal Safe Injection Site in the U.S. Is Set to Open Next Week. Here's Why That Matters.

A judge ruled that the site would not violate federal drug laws, over the objections of the Trump administration.

by Emma Ockerman
Feb 26 2020, 7:41pm

The U.S.’ first safe injection site is set to open as early as next week, according to the Philadelphia nonprofit that finally got a federal judge’s green light to go forward with it, over the objections of the Trump administration.

Officials from Safehouse made the announcement at a Wednesday morning press conference, hours after a judge ruled late Tuesday that the site would not violate federal drug laws.

The opening of the Safehouse center at the planned South Philly site of a former hospital will be a huge win after a yearslong stretch of legal threats from the Trump administration and failures to launch similar sites in cities from New York City to San Francisco. It will also add a domestic win to what’s often called the “harm reduction” movement — whose policies have established clean needle exchanges so people don’t get sick from intravenous drug use and so-called “supervised consumption sites,” in places like Denmark and Australia, so people could safely inject medical under supervision.

Currently, the only safe injection sites in North America are located in Canada, although there are more than 100 operating around the world in 10 countries, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. The facilities allow people to safely use drugs in the presence of medical professionals to better prevent fatal overdoses, and offer access to treatment and rehabilitative services.

Safehouse will open some time next week, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. A second site will reportedly open soon after the first. Some residents of the neighborhood where the facility is set to open showed up to the press conference and shouted at Safehouse officials, expressing outrage that the site would welcome drug users to their neighborhood.

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U.S. Attorney William McSwain said the government will seek to stop the site from opening, as the government intends to appeal the judge’s decision. The federal government has repeatedly argued that such sites would violate a decades-old federal law known as the “crackhouse statute,” but advocates charge that safe injection sites would instead promote safety and move people toward recovery.

“We respectfully disagree with the District Court’s ruling and plan to appeal immediately,” McSwain said in a statement after Tuesday’s ruling. “What Safehouse proposes is a radical experiment that would invite thousands of people onto its property for the purpose of injecting illegal drugs. In our view, this would plainly violate the law and we look forward to presenting our case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.”

Tuesday’s ruling by Judge Gerald Austin McHugh underscored what he first said in an October ruling: that Safehouse intends to “reduce drug use, not facilitate it,” meaning it falls outside conduct prohibited by the crackhouse statute. (That ruling didn’t give advocates the full green light to go ahead and open up shop, though, according to the local news outlet Billy Penn.) Plus, many cities and states skirt federal drug law anyway by legalizing things like needle exchanges and marijuana use.

Cover: Wilfredo Carrasquillo, center, and other protesters demonstrate in support of a proposed supervised injection site, outside the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

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Drug Laws
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overdoses
Controlled Substances Act