Philadelphia’s Landmark Supervised-Injection Site Ruling Has Boosted Such Efforts in Other Cities

October 10, 2019by Aubrey Whelan
From left, clockwise, Catalyst Twomey, Jamaal Henderson, Noble Henderson and Billy Boyer lay down roses, which represent people in Philadelphia who died of drug overdose in 2018, outside the Federal Courthouse in Center City, Philadelphia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. Protesters gathered outside the courthouse while the backers of Safehouse, the nonprofit aiming to open a first-of-its-kind supervised injection site in Philadelphia, were in court for a hearing before a judge, who will decide whether what they propose is illegal. (Heather Khalifa/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA — The federal court ruling in favor of Philadelphia’s proposed supervised-injection site doesn’t apply to the handful of other cities that have floated the idea over the last few years. But backers of the harm-reduction concept around the country say they’ve been galvanized by the ruling, even as other U.S. attorneys general have indicated they would try to block the sites.

In any case, experts say, the Philadelphia ruling sets an important precedent in a legal fight that’s gained momentum as the opioid overdose crisis has killed tens of thousands of Americans in recent years. The sites are places where people in addiction can use the drugs they bring with them under medical supervision so they can be revived if they overdose, and also can access treatment and other health services.

Scott Burris, a Temple University law professor who directs the school’s Center for Public Health Law Research, called the ruling “absolutely huge,” even if it directly applies only to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

If other federal court cases are filed over proposed sites, “any judge who ignores (this ruling) is going to be at risk of looking like a know-nothing,” he said. Burris, who’s written extensively in support of sites — and about the legal challenges they face — called U.S. District Judge Gerald A. McHugh’s ruling “earnest, careful and morally serious.”

“The precedent here is in the careful reasoning, and in the nonjudgmental, evidence-based approach,” he said. “What we need most in all of these kinds of cases is clear thinking. From a big-picture public health law perspective, a lot of us are always happy when judges look at evidence about what works and what doesn’t, about the actual nature of a health problem, and apply the law to those facts.”

U.S. Attorney William McSwain, who argued the case personally in court, filed suit claiming the site would violate the 1984 “crack house statute.” McHugh ruled, however, that a law meant to stop drug dens could not possibly also apply to a public health intervention.

Several other states and cities had already thrown their support behind Philadelphia’s efforts.

In July, state attorneys general from the District of Columbia, Colorado, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Virginia filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the federal lawsuit against Safehouse, the nonprofit planning to open a site in Philadelphia. They argued that states “need the freedom to implement innovative treatment programs to save lives.”

With McHugh’s ruling in hand, activists in New York took the opportunity to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support a site, the blog Gothamist reported. Mayor Bill de Blasio had announced last year that he planned to open sites in New York City, but the effort has stalled at the state level.

City officials in Seattle and San Francisco — the two other cities that have come closest to opening sites — said they were closely studying the ruling. Some activists in Seattle told a local television station they wanted to see mobile sites open.

In San Francisco, “the city attorney’s office has begun poring over the ruling to see if it might provide the legal arguments necessary to make it easier to (open a site),” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

A state bill to authorize supervised injection sites in California was vetoed last year by former Gov. Jerry Brown, but the Chronicle reported that a new bill has been introduced in the state Legislature, and at least one city lawmaker is considering pushing a local bill sanctioning a site.

In Massachusetts, where mayors of several cities have contemplated opening sites, state lawmakers have been debating the idea for the last several months. Last week, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, the top federal prosecutor in the District of Massachusetts, said he would sue to block any attempts to open a site.

And even in Philadelphia, there’s still much to be done before a site opens. Safehouse officials have said they believe the biggest legal hurdle is out of the way, but they’re waiting for further guidance from McHugh. McSwain, meanwhile, has said he will continue to oppose the decision in court.

———

©2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.inquirer.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

In The News

Experiential, Digital, and Sustainable Are the Future of Science Education
Education
Experiential, Digital, and Sustainable Are the Future of Science Education
February 20, 2020
by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — Environmental activist Greta Thunberg was a recurring topic of conversation at Axios’ first Washington, D.C. event of the year, held this week. The event consisted of a series of conversations dedicated to the future of science education and digital learning.   Educators and other industry... Read More

Counties Seek Protection of Local Decisions on Fed Autonomous Vehicles Rules
Technology
Counties Seek Protection of Local Decisions on Fed Autonomous Vehicles Rules
February 20, 2020
by Dan McCue

As Congressional lawmakers close in on finalizing a bipartisan, comprehensive bill governing the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles, the nation's county governments are reminding them not to forget to leave room for local decision-making. In a blog post published this week, the National Association of... Read More

Trump Names Richard Grenell as Acting Director of National Intelligence
Political News
Trump Names Richard Grenell as Acting Director of National Intelligence

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he would appoint Richard Grenell, the current U.S. ambassador to Germany, to be the next acting director of national intelligence. Grenell is a Trump loyalist who was nominated to be ambassador to Germany in 2017 after having served as spokesman... Read More

5 Takeaways From the Democratic Debate in Las Vegas
2020 Elections
5 Takeaways From the Democratic Debate in Las Vegas

For five of the candidates on Wednesday’s debate stage it was like another night at the office. The new addition, Michael Bloomberg, made this ninth round different and more antagonistic than the rest. The face-to-face encounter, broadcast live from the Paris casino-resort in Las Vegas, was... Read More

Assange Lawyers Say Trump Offered a Pardon If He ‘Played Ball’
In The News
Assange Lawyers Say Trump Offered a Pardon If He ‘Played Ball’

LONDON — Julian Assange’s lawyers told a London court that they will provide evidence that U.S. President Donald Trump was prepared to offer the WikiLeaks founder a pardon if he “played ball” about leaks of Democratic National Committee emails. At a preliminary hearing Wednesday, Assange’s lawyer... Read More

Felons Who Can’t Afford Fines and Fees Shouldn’t be Stopped From Voting in Florida, Appeals Court Rules
State News
Felons Who Can’t Afford Fines and Fees Shouldn’t be Stopped From Voting in Florida, Appeals Court Rules

ORLANDO, Fla. — A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld the limited injunction that allowed 17 ex-felons, including some from Orange County, to register to vote despite not being able to afford the fines and fees imposed as part of their sentence. The ruling, by three judges... Read More

Straight From The Well
scroll top