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.