A local federal prosecutor has moved to block plans to open what could be the nation’s first medically supervised injection site in Philadelphia.
U.S. Attorney William McSwain has filed a court notice that he will appeal a judge’s ruling this week that found the plan legal. McSwain has also asked U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh to stay his decision while the appeal unfolds.
The announcement Wednesday that a nonprofit group planned to open the site at a medical complex in South Philadelphia led area residents to shout down former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and other organizers at a news conference.
They believe the plan could save lives as the city grapples with about 1,100 overdose deaths each year. However, McSwain and many of the neighbors fear the program would only encourage illegal drug use.
“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,” McSwain, a Republican appointed by President Trump, said in a statement Thursday, a day after asking for the stay.
He pledged to file the appeal by Friday. Safehouse organizers have said they plan to open it sometime next week and offer services four hours a day. They hope to expand to other neighborhoods, including Kensington, the epicenter of the city’s opioid crisis.
Under the Safehouse plan, people could bring drugs to the clinic-like setting, use them in a partitioned bay and get medical help if they overdose. They would also have access to counseling, treatment and other health services.
Safehouse organizers said that about one person dies of an overdose each week in South Philadelphia.
The opening has been on hold for much of the past year while McHugh held evidentiary hearings to determine whether the plan violates a 1980s-era drug law known as the “crackhouse statute.” McSwain believes it does and sued the Safehouse organizers, who along with Rendell include Ronda Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. McHugh found otherwise.
“The ultimate goal of Safehouse’s proposed operation is to reduce drug use, not facilitate it, and accordingly, (the law) does not prohibit Safehouse’s proposed conduct,” McHugh wrote in a preliminary ruling last fall that he affirmed Tuesday.
The facilities have long operated in Canada and Europe and have been considered by several U.S. cities, including Seattle, New York and San Francisco. Smaller, unofficial sites have also popped up in some places across the U.S.