U.S. Attorney for Seattle Threatens To Block Supervised Injection Facility

Nearly two decades of data from Canada show that such facilities reduce overdose deaths.


Vancouver's Insite is the model facility U.S. mayors would like to replicate. Liang Sen Xinhua News Agency/Newscom

The Justice Department fired another salvo this week at harm reduction advocates. Their crime: trying to bring down the death toll from opioid overdoses.

Brian Moran, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, told Seattle journalists Wednesday that his office would sue Seattle if it moved forward with plans to allow a supervised injection facility (SIF) to open in the city.

According to the Seattle Times' Mike Carter, Moran told Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes that his office would borrow a play from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which sued Philadelphia in federal court in February in order to block that city's planned SIF. In the Eastern District's lawsuit, U.S. Attorney William McSwain alleges that a SIF would be illegal under federal "crack house" laws that make it a crime to operate a facility where drugs are used.

"We are all trying to solve a horrific crisis, and these are people whose intentions are well-mannered, well-meaning and in good faith," Moran told the Times. "This is not a time or place to bring a heavy hammer for people with good intentions."

If it sounds like Moran is playing nice, that's because a federal lawsuit is relatively tame compared to the "hammer" brandished in 2017 by the U.S. attorney in Vermont, who threatened SIF advocates in Burlington—including the city's top prosecutor—with federal asset forfeiture and prosecution if they moved forward.

"It is a crime, not only to use illicit narcotics, but to manage and maintain sites on which such drugs are used and distributed," declared a December 2017 statement from the U.S. attorney's office in Vermont. "Thus, exposure to criminal charges would arise for users and SIF workers and overseers. The properties that host SIFs would also be subject to federal forfeiture."

Meanwhile, Philadelphia's Safehouse, a privately funded nonprofit working to reduce overdose deaths in the city, plans to move forward with its supervised injection facility. The organization has pointed to research in other countries that shows SIFs reduce overdose deaths among people who use the facilities, both by having nurses and doctors on hand to reverse overdoses and by connecting drug users with social services.

Safehouse counter-sued the Justice Department this week, asking for an injunction that will prevent the department from interfering with the operation of a future Philadelphia SIF location. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Aubrey Whelan reports that Safehouse is fighting the suit on religious grounds as well as public health. "The DOJ's threats and the initiation of a lawsuit against Safehouse burdens Safehouse by forcing it to choose between the exercise of its founders' and directors' religious beliefs and conformity with the DOJ's interpretation of [the crack-house statute]," the suit reads.

Despite the feds' opposition, the SIF model is drawing interest in big cities around the country. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked the state government for approval to allow four SIFs in NYC, but he's being slow-rolled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, due to Justice Department opposition. Earlier this year, the mayors of Boston and Cambridge traveled to Canada to tour Vancouver's Insite, which in 2003 became the first SIF in North America.

"There's more than enough evidence now that we should be adopting this model," Dr. Jessie Gaeta, chief medical officer at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, told WBUR in January.

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  1. I’m having a problem understanding why reducing overdose deaths is construed as a Good Thing. It’s not like you can produce a particularly impressive roster of street junkies who went on to become productive members of society. Letting Darwin take his course doesn’t seem like an particularly unreasonable position to me.

    1. It’s because in places that are ravaged by drugs and drug overdoses, it’s a tacit admission that fixing that problem is really, really hard, especially when you put policies in place that ramped the problem up to factor eleven. So it creates a stop gap measure of “harm reduction”.

      Think of it this way. You get diagnosed with diabetes. Your doctor says you’re going to have to make some massive lifestyle and diet changes to manage the disease. You refuse and say “not gonna happen.” So your doctor gives up and says, “Well, ok, we’re going to build a space near the clinic where you can continue to engage in your lifestyle choices, but we’ll have a medical team standing by to resuscitate you should things go sideways.”

      The idea of saving lives in and of itself is perfectly noble, but I haven’t seen a shred of evidence that it helps people get out of the destructive existence of addiction to street drugs.

      But don’t take it from me, take it from this guy who used to be an addict.

      1. But, why should the taxpayer foot the bill for these sites?

        1. Are they?

    2. Most heroin addicts aren’t homeless “street junkies.” Most heroin addicts already are “productive members of society” (just like most alcoholics). Most heroin addicts eventually stop using heroin. It costs much more to let them die due to prohibition than it does to alleviate that death rate with harm reduction like this.

      1. Most heroin addicts already are “productive members of society” (just like most alcoholics). Most heroin addicts eventually stop using heroin

        The safe injection sites aren’t aimed at Anthony Bourdain, they’re aimed at the people living under the overpass. The type of heroin addicts you’re referring to die in their hotel room or penthouse apartments.

        1. People under overpasses can’t afford heroin.

  2. AOC puts on fake “black” accent

    If you enjoyed Hillary in the role of Working-Class Black Woman, then you’re gonna love this.

    1. That was… bad.
      Just really, really bad.

      On a related note, I caught a glimpse of one of her recent snapchats/instagrams.
      I think she’s been hitting the bottle pretty frequently.
      Though I’m not sure it’s a bad thing for our legislators on high to appear publicly drunk so often.

  3. Nearly two decades of data from Canada show that such facilities reduce overdose deaths.

    I’m going to play really nicey-nicey on this quote, because Vancouver overdose deaths are up. Way up. Wwwwaaaay up. So by what metric has Insite lowered overdose deaths.

    If you look at the overdose death trajectory, they were already on the way down when Insite opened, but they’ve skyrocketed since then. Yes, I know people who run Insite blame fentanyl, but it’s still important to note that if you say doing “x” will reduce deaths and deaths go up, then that’s a failed prediction.

    1. The only metric you could use is to compare deaths for people injecting at the facility vs those who inject elsewhere.

      Anything else would be meaningless.

      1. I believe Insite has never had an overdose death at its facility. That’s why I’m trying… I’m trying real hard, Ringo, to give Riggs the benefit of the doubt here.

        From my link above:

        Jordan Westfall, president of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, said he found hope in the chief health officer’s comments about a safer supply.

        “I think the barriers need to be reduced,” Westfall said.

        He said programs like the Crosstown Clinic, which provides medical-grade heroin and hydromorphone, are crucial, but for some people the requirement that they visit clinics or nurses several times a day is too high a barrier.

  4. Or maybe, and this is just crazy talk, if Seattle didn’t have so much welfare and non-enforcement of property crimes, there wouldn’t be so many street junkies in the first place.

    Drug use is a symptom of the fact that it’s so easy to subsist in Seattle doing nothing productive. The socialist geniuses in charge think the solution is always more welfare.

    1. Just to be clear, I’m against the feds blocking Seattle SIF. That’s not helpful. However, I’m not against the residents kicking out every politician who is– which is happening, by the by.

      the drug addicts were there. They were in Seattle, in outer King County, Pierce County, Minnesota, California, Texas, New Jersey. What Seattle did was create a space for them to operate by literally decriminalize all the ancillary, trickle-down effects of homelessness. Public dumping, discarding used needles, camping in parks and greenbelts, under overpasses and on sidewalks. Drug possession in “personal dose” levels have been decriminalized by the Seattle Attorney. I believe the current figures are that if a person is caught with a personal amount of heroin, the city won’t prosecute. And a personal amount is considered 30 doses. So one person can hold enough for an entire encampment.

      Non-violent crimes committed by homeless people are eligible for release without bail, that includes burglary, breaking and entering etc.

      I believe one report estimated a handful of homeless people are responsible for something like 3,500 crimes a year.

      Point is, these people existed, they were just diffused around the country. Now they’re in one small space and it’s creating chaos.

      1. I believe one report estimated a handful of homeless people are responsible for something like 3,500 crimes a year.

        Oh, and I need to add, some individuals have been arrested upwards of 70 times for crimes such as theft and burglary. Some individual neighborhoods that have homeless encampments around them have seen as much as 37% increase in crimes, and that’s considering many residents have stopped calling 911 for things like theft and break ins, because the cops no longer show up.

  5. I understand there is a professor at Temple Univ. in Phila. who is all for safe injection sites (safe places to use illegal drugs) while at same time calling for a campus wide ban on vaping (no safe places for legal drugs).

    1. I remember San Fruitcisco having side by side signs demanding pot legalization and a ban on tobacco.

  6. The organization has pointed to research in other countries that shows SIFs reduce overdose deaths among people who use the facilities,”

    I’m not clear why this is a benefit to society.

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