Philadelphia is Set to Open America's First Safe Injecting Site

The group behind the project have officially won the legal right to open a safe injection facility, but they face passionate opposition from Philadelphia residents.

The city of Philadelphia may be about to become the location of the first safe drug injection room in the US, after the non-profit group behind the project, Safehouse, received the judicial greenlight to open the facility.  

Once open it will be the first of its kind in the country—although similar programs have existed in Australia and Europe for years—following the finalization of ruling from October by a federal judge, which confirmed that Safehouse had explicit legal permission to open the safe injecting site.

Participants will be presented with rehabilitation options at multiple points during a visit to Safehouse, beginning with when they arrive and go through a registration process. Official statement from Safehouse

According to the organisation, the facility will also provide a wide variety of counselling and social service options, aside from allowing for medically supervised drug injection.

"A physical and behavioural health assessment will be conducted, and a range of overdose prevention services offered," an official spokesperson said.

"From the consumption area, participants will be directed to the medically supervised observation room and offered on-site initiation of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), wound care, and referrals to primary care, social services, and housing opportunities."

"Upon arrival, participants may choose to go directly to the observation room to access MAT and other services."

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Following their legal victory, Safehouse subsequently announced that it would open its first location in South Philadelphia later this month. However, they have been forced to establish their initial site approximately 6 miles away from Kensington—which is the neighbourhood with the highest opioid use in the city—where Safehouse had originally hoped to open.

And unfortunately, the fight is not over for Safehouse, as the organisation's plans have also drawn the attention of Eastern District of Pennsylvania US Attorney, William McSwain, who has stated that "we believe that Safehouse's proposed activity threatens to institutionalize the scourge of illegal drug use—and all the problems that come with it—in Philadelphia neighbourhoods."

"In light of these concerns, Safehouse should act prudently and not rush to open while the appeal is pending."

"But if it does rush forward, my office will evaluate all options available under the law," McSwain said.

Safehouse is also facing staunch opposition from local residents such as Dino Cavaliere, who incorrectly claimed that when it comes to safe injecting sites, "it's all just theory", despite the wealth of evidence to contrary generated by decades of similar programs in countries such as the UK and Australia.  

"This isn't right, not only for the community, but for the addict. This is personal to me. My son passed away from addiction, 22 years old," Cavaliere said.

"People don't understand the mindset of the addicted person. If you're really concerned, then make a rehab centre."

In response to the backlash, representatives of Safehouse have announced that they will temporarily postpone the launch of the safe injecting room, despite winning the legal right to operate. This was also driven in part by a planned protest and online petition which generated 5,800 signatures in only 12 hours.

"We're going to take a pause, even though we are legally entitled to open," Safehouse vice president Ronda Goldfein said.

Despite this is a significant setback, Safehouse have confirmed that it plans to continue with the project, seek to have "meaningful conversations" with the community before going forward.

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Hugo Gray
Hugo Gray

Hugo Gray is a Melbourne-based journalist with a body of work that covers a diverse range of topics, including immigration law, sex technology, and now the rapidly expanding cannabis industry.

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