Philadelphia's Government 'Expresses Interest' in Safe Injection Sites

The city's new district attorney also supports the idea.


Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto/Sipa/Newscom

Philadelphia officials are now open to allowing safe injection sites for heroin users. The city's health commissioner, Thomas Farley, does not yet have details about how such sites would be run, who would run them, or who would pay for them, looking instead to solicit for proposals from private and non-profit organizations.

"Part of what we're doing today is expressing interest," he told the local NBC affiliate.

The announcement comes on the heels of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's decision to offer a range of waivers for regulations that have made it harder for substance abusers to access life-saving treatments. Jeanette Bowles, a public health researcher who served on Philadelphia's Opioid Task Force Harm Reduction and Overdose Prevention Subcommittee, told Reason's Mike Riggs earlier this month that she hopes the governor's new policy means the state "might not get in the way" of a supervised injection facility. (Bowles' old subcommittee has recommended safe injection sites as a way to mitigate overdose deaths, which are a growing problem in the city.)

Philadelphia's new district attorney, Larry Krasner, endorsed the idea of safe injection sites while campaigning for the office last year, saying he'd support "properly run and appropriately supervised injection facilities."

Police Commissioner Richard Ross has said he an open mind about safe injection sites—but with "a lot" of questions. "What would our role be? What does that look like to us? What am I asking police officers to do?" he said to PhillyVoice.

A similar effort in Vermont has been stymied by U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan, who declared that safe injection sites would "encourage and normalize heroin use" after the state legislature began to consider such a proposal.

Safe injection sites currently operate in parts of Europe as well as Vancouver, offering American officials a number of models to consider. There are not yet any sites in the United States, although there are efforts to establish them in California and Seattle.

NEXT: The Feds Are Willing to Let More Medical Workers Treat Opioid Addicts. Now the States Need to Step Up and Allow It.

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  1. A similar effort in Vermont has been stymied by U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan, who declared that safe injection sites would “encourage and normalize heroin use” after the state legislature began to consider such a proposal.

    Spoiler alert: heroin use is already normal

    1. already normal

      Are you equating stability with normality? I’m having trouble finding another trait that describes 0.3% of the population that I would, in any way, describe as normal. About 0.3% of Canada identifies as being of Mexican origin so Mexican Canadians are a normal feature of Canada?

  2. I’m sorry AddictionMyth is no longer with us. He would have appreciated stories like this.

  3. Safe Injection

    Something something nickname in college.

  4. Not everyone likes heroin: the chow-chow, the dog food. If nothing else, it has interesting street names.

  5. Just as long as the government doesn’t pay for it

    1. Yeah, while I don’t bemoan the nod to include private proposals, but the notion sounds like something right out of a bad/dark Sci-Fi novel. The Purdue Pharma Clinic just begs to have a nefarious plot written around it. Like some real-world, modern-day adaptation of A Scanner Darkly.

    2. Probably will raise the soda tax to pay for it.

      1. Which means it’s still voluntary

  6. Thomas Farley, does not yet have details about how such sites would be run

    That tends to be the tricky part.

  7. Safe injection sites currently operate in parts of Europe as well as Vancouver, offering American officials a number of models to consider.

    How could that city get any worse? Oh, I know. Be more like Europe.

    1. I wish somewhere in the world this has been done before so we can evaluate whether it had a positive benefit or not.

      Wait… it has! And it did!

      See? Even Europe can offer lessons.

  8. Welfare Wednesday in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES): monthly cheques have just landed. Fresh $50 and $20 bills are flashing around. In this neighbourhood, regular government cash injections see a spike in the open drug trade. More heroin, cocaine, crystal meth. More consumption, more overdoses, and lately, much more death.


    Despite its controversies and a sense that illicit drug use in and around the DTES has never been more pervasive, many still consider Insite a model for harm reduction, a kind of centre of excellence for shooting up safely. It’s something that authorities in other Canadian cities seem eager to emulate.

    1. [Insite] sits smack in the middle of an eye-popping outdoor drug market and shooting gallery. Here’s a snapshot: a urine-soaked alley, directly behind Insite. A man squats on the broken pavement, poking a needle into an open, bleeding wound in one arm. Another man stands nearby, moaning, eyes glazed, a sharp protruding from his wrist. Next to him, a woman holds a small cosmetics mirror in front of her face. She’s not applying makeup; she’s pushing a needle into her neck.

      But a large percentage of DTES drug users will rarely, if ever, use the facilities and services. Five metres from Insite’s front door, a woman sits next to the curb and prepares her injection. She mixes her powdery purchase with water and heat, pulls the mixture into a syringe, and sticks the needle into a vein above her wrist.

      Why shoot up on the street, when Insite is open and directly in front of her? “It’s a hassle,” she says. “I’d rather use right here. It’s not like anybody cares.”

      1. The message: Do heroin and you get to meet people all kinds of people!

      2. In case anyone is wondering, the above is the pro-safe injection site argument. The dramatic increase of overdose deaths, crime, disorder and general fucked-upness described above is being brushed off by officials as “because of Fentanyl”.

        What has changed?and what makes the DTES “look worse” than it did when Insite first opened?is the appearance of fentanyl, which began entering the illicit drug supply in or around 2015. It is blamed for the dramatic increase in public disorder, drug overdoses and overdose deaths.

        In Vancouver alone, the number of overdose deaths attributed to illicit drug use climbed from 100 in 2014 to 231 last year. The number this year is expected to reach 400, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

        Insite still insists drug overdoses have decreased, so I’m not sure if they’re drawing a circle around “heroin” overdoses and leaving Fentanyl overdoses outside the circle… either way, if you look upstream, it’s very likely that “government cash injections” could be seen as more responsible for the problem they’ve got in Vancouver, more than the safe injection site.

        It’s like that scene in Apocalypse Now. Bomb the shit out of people, then offer them a bandaid.

      3. What? No one has Narcan?

  9. Every place in town will be an injection site as Krasner flexes his new powers and doesn’t prosecute anyone anymore.

    1. doesn’t prosecute anyone anymore

      Good. Libertarians will flock in droves.

  10. SISs are a bad idea. They perpetuate the misery of the addict by giving up on them and expect that there is no help for them except to die an eventual early death. The 100% “positive” studies for SISs are unscientific at best, self-serving at worse. They increase public overdoses, public deaths, public use, needle litter, homelessness, crime.

    My arguments against SISs is in the comment section here:


    1. “If I came from a city like Seattle and I went to that Insite place, it would scare the hell out of me,” Kral said. “I would think, ‘Are we going to create one of those?’?””

      I believe I linked to this article a while back. As I posted above, the impetus for the SIS is laudable, the logistics and reality of running it… that’s where it gets tricky.

      The proponents of Vancouver’s Insite essentially admit that they’ve locked a whole neighborhood into an Escape-From-New-York style hellhole. They just claim it’s all worth it because it saves lives. Yet depending on from what angle you view the statistics, it’s not clear.

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