First Legal Drug-Injection Site in US Faces Backlash Before Opening

February 27, 2020 Updated: February 27, 2020

A nonprofit organization’s plans to open the first U.S. facility where people can inject drugs legally under medical supervision faced harsh criticism from Philadelphia residents and the possibility of a court injunction, as the Department of Justice (DOJ) moved to appeal a ruling that deemed the facility legal.

Safehouse announced on Feb. 27 that it plans to open the facility in South Philadelphia as early as next week. Local residents and officials were outraged by the lack of consultation with the community.

“You didn’t even go out to the community and do it. You just put it there,” Councilman Mark Squilla told officials at a press conference announcing the opening of the first Safehouse location, according to a video posted by journalist Denise Nakano.

Squilla pointed out that in Canada, a similar site was opened only after securing the support of local residents.

“We have questions from people calling our offices, we don’t know the answers and that’s not fair,” Squilla said. “Whether you support the site or oppose the site, what was done here was horrible, a disgrace to the city of Philadelphia.”

After a yearlong legal battle between the DOJ and Safehouse, a federal judge ruled in favor of Safehouse in October and again on Feb. 25. The DOJ swiftly filed an appeal the next day and asked the court to order to stay the opening until the appeal is resolved.

“This request for a stay is critically important,” U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain said in a statement. “My Office filed suit against Safehouse in the first place to bring order, reason, and fairness to a potentially explosive situation. The current dispute over injection sites should be settled in the courts, not in the streets.

“The sad fact is that Safehouse’s secretive, haphazard ‘plan’ has not been vetted with any of the affected neighborhood residents, community groups, City Council members, State Representatives or State Senators. It is being unfairly foisted on them on the assumption that they don’t matter. It is treating them like fools.”

Safehouse told 6ABC that the site was chosen because the ZIP code had the third-highest rate of overdoses in Philadelphia.

“We picked South Philly because we know the demand will be less than Kensington and with the funding we have that is manageable,” Safehouse’s Ronda Goldfein told the network.

Judge Gerald McHugh articulated his reasons with Safehouse in an Oct. 2, 2019, opinion, writing that Safehouse “ultimately aims to reduce drug use, not facilitate it.” Thus, the judge said, the injection facility isn’t in violation of a federal law that was written to address crack houses.

A local resident disrupted the Safehouse press conference with a passionate appeal against the facility.

“You snuck it in. You blindsided us,” the woman, who did not identify herself, said in a video posted by an NBC10 reporter. “Are you going to clean our outside? I don’t care about inside. I care about needles outside. I care about bags outside.

“This is unacceptable and you were a sneak about it.”

Goldfein, facing the angry local resident, said that Safehouse would answer questions from the locals during a future community meeting, according to McSwain.

Safehouse didn’t respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

“Safehouse locations will be determined by community and city input, as well as data that show the areas where the greatest need exists. Safehouse considers it a priority to be a good neighbor, so locations will be selected in consultation with local leaders, businesses, and residents, “ the organization’s website states.

Overdose deaths in Philadelphia climbed to 1,217 in 2017 from 907 in 2016. Safehouse cites several studies on its website showing that legal injection facilities benefit both drug users and the communities where drug use occurs.

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