A federal appeals court blocked a Philadelphia nonprofit from opening the nation’s first sanctioned, supervised site for drug users because the plan violates federal drug law, says the Wall Street Journal. Tuesday’s decision raised another barrier for Safehouse, which has long planned a safe-injection site to combat fatal drug overdoses, but has faced legal opposition and other delays. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said in a 2-1 ruling that only Congress can make such a site legal. “Its motives are admirable,” Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote for the majority. “But Congress has made it a crime to open a property to others to use drugs.”
Safehouse aims to open a site that would support drug users, including a room where they can take drugs with supervision so that someone can quickly intervene and treat an overdose. Supporters say the concept, already used in Europe and Canada but novel in the U.S., will save lives and help people get access to treatment. Federal prosecutors say Safehouse would violate a 1986 antidrug law that makes it illegal to host illicit drug use and other drug-related activity. Safehouse won a favorable lower-court ruling in 2019. Safehouse can ask for a rehearing before the whole court. Tuesday’s ruling sent part of the case to the lower court to rule on a Safehouse claim that applying the 1980s drug law would violate the Constitution’s Commerce Clause or the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The U.S. may have record drug fatalities in 2020 after fatal overdoses topped 70,000 in 2019. Preliminary data projects drug deaths could top 81,000 in the year running through last May, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One unsanctioned drug-injection site operates in an undisclosed U.S. city, said Alex Kral of the health-research organization RTI International who has studied that site.