In the battle over safe injection sites for drug users, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that they do not violate federal drug laws. Safe injection sites are designed to prevent people from overdosing and limit the spread of diseases.
U.S. District Judge Gerald A. McHugh passed down the ruling on his interpretation of drug laws set up in the 1980s. This change is only for Philadelphia for now, but it could also impact legal battles elsewhere.
“Safe injection sites were not considered by Congress and could not have been, because their use as a possible harm reduction strategy among opioid users had not yet entered public discourse,” McHugh said in his ruling.
Safehouse, a nonprofit group, will work on clarifying the judge’s ruling with him before beginning the process of opening safe injection sites all across Philadelphia. But Republicans likely will not give up the fight that easily, and the Justice Department will probably challenge McHugh’s ruling, AP reported.
“Any attempt to open illicit drug injection sites in other jurisdictions while this case is pending will continue to be met with immediate action by the department,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a statement.
It’s a controversial issue. Canada and Europe have already implemented safe injection sites. Those against it say it’s promoting drug use. But advocates say it’s a place where people can get counseling as well as safely inject drugs.
“It’s a better option than having people die in streets and alleyways and fields. And it will also help the community,” Debbie Howland of Drexel Hill, who lost a daughter to an overdose death last year, told AP. “With 70,000 people dying a year [nationally], you’ve got to do something.”
McHugh agreed with advocates.
“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,” the judge wrote in his ruling.