The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit showed little sign Monday that it will stop a nonprofit from opening a so-called safe injection site where drug users can get high under medical supervision, Courthouse News Service reports. Safehouse is set to open the facility in Philadelphia, where opioid death rates are higher than anywhere else in the nation. Overdoses occurred in more than 80 percent of the 1,150 unintentional drug-related deaths that the city saw in 2019.
Though the project is supported by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials, fthe U.S. government is opposed. U.S. Attorney William McSwain argued on Monday that Safehouse’s plans run afoul of the Controlled Substances Act, also known as crack-house statute, which prohibits maintaining a place “for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using controlled substances.” That means “you’re not allowed to directly set up a drug house,” McSwain said. Representing Safehouse, Ilana Eisenstein told the court that supervised consumption of drugs is a step toward treatment because users aren’t experiencing withdrawal systems. “Yes, there are people who may be using drugs [at Safehouse’s facility] but for what reason? Because they want to stay alive,” she continued. “Because they are suffering from a disease that is compelling them to use a substance that may kill them and they want to stay right where care is available.” Though U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh turned down the federal challenge more than a year ago, Safehouse’s plans have been on hold as Philadelphia has faced the challenges of controlling the coronavirus pandemic and protests over racial injustice.