Before the Trump administration successfully blocked their plans in federal court, Philadelphia-based Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site where people could use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. Although there is now a new president in the White House, Safehouse is taking a huge risk pursuing their appeal before a still-conservative majority U.S. Supreme Court. The looming question is whether the Biden Justice Department will continue federal opposition to supervised injection facilities. The precedent-setting case could steer policy for years to come.
“This question is a matter of life or death for thousands of Philadelphians and many thousands more throughout the country,” a petition reads. “Tragically, while respondents have been pursuing this declaratory judgment against Safehouse, more than 3,200 people died in Philadelphia of drug overdoses—many of which could have been prevented if medical care had been immediately available through supervised consumption services.”
The organization pulled no punches boldly depicting how its proposed facility fills an urgent life-or-death need.
“When breathing stops, even a brief delay while waiting for medical help to arrive may result in an otherwise preventable overdose death or irreversible injury,” the petition says. “As a result, every second counts when responding to an opioid overdose; as more time elapses, the greater the risk of serious injury and death. Ensuring proximity to medical care and opioid reversal agents like the drug Naloxone at the time of consumption is therefore a critical component of efforts to prevent fatal opioid overdose.”
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said that “promoting harm-reduction efforts” is a first-year priority. The office also said it intends to expand “access to evidence-based treatment,” enhance “evidence-based harm reduction efforts” and promote “access to recovery support services.”
The president designated next week Overdose Awareness Week. The proclamation says “we recommit to taking bold actions to prevent overdoses and related deaths, and enhance our support for individuals with substance use disorders” and touts federal funding for “prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery services, as well as strategies to reduce the supply of illicit drugs.”
These goals align, in spirit, with those of Safehouse, which wants to provide a facility for people with substance use disorders, where medical professionals can intervene in case of an overdose, and to provide the resources necessary to seek recovery.
A 2020 study found that people “who reported using supervised injection facilities on an at least weekly basis had a reduced risk of dying compared to those who reported less than weekly or no use of this health service.”