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How the U.S.’s first safe drug injection sites would work

How the U.S.’s first safe drug injection sites would work
[Photo: Flickr user Nathan Forget]

Philadelphia city officials announced plans Tuesday to encourage the opening of safe drug-injection sites in the city, which has been particularly hit hard by the national opioid epidemic, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The locations, where people could inject drugs with health experts’ supervision, wouldn’t be directly run by the city, though officials might help private organizations locate sites and secure funding for the facilities.

“Philadelphia’s fatal overdose rate is the worst in the nation among large cities, and incidents of overdose have steadily increased to an alarming degree,” said Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement. Officials say the sites could provide wound care, referral to drug treatment and other social services, access to sterile injection equipment as well as medically supervised injection facilities. They would also provide access to naloxone, the opioid antidote, which can reverse overdoses.

The sites–what the city is calling “Comprehensive User Engagement Sites”–would be the first such operations in the United States, though similar operations–said to number roughly 100–have reportedly saved numerous lives in 66 cities in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere. (There is also reportedly an unsanctioned facility that’s been operational in the U.S. since 2014.)

Proponents, including city officials who visited an injection site in Vancouver last fall, say the facilities reduce overdose deaths, curb the spread of infections like hepatitis C and HIV, and reduce problems from people injecting drugs on the street or in other public places. A Toronto site that opened last year saved 139 lives in its first six months, officials there estimate. (See a Vice News report on that site below.) Jerome Adams, the new U.S. surgeon general, has expressed interest in the facilities as a way to respond to the opioid crisis, and in June the American Medical Association endorsed a resolution calling for pilot supervised injection programs.

The Philadelphia plan might still face an uphill battle: After city officials announced the plan, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said state and federal laws would need to be changed before such sites could open. Proposals for city-run injection sites elsewhere in the United States, including in Seattle, have also been met with some opposition.

Last week, Philadelphia filed suit against a number of prescription opioid manufacturers, seeking to hold them liable for the city’s costs in responding to the fatal drug epidemic.