PHILADELPHIA, July 17, 2019 – Last week, numerous organizations and individuals representing public health, criminal justice, law enforcement, faith, homelessness, and impacted families and communities filed more than 12 amicus briefs in support of Safehouse. The community-based organization is currently fending off an action in federal court against its attempt to establish a Safe Consumption Site (SCS) in Philadelphia. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) played a key role in helping to coordinate the amicus submissions.
In February 2019, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, William M. McSwain, filed the action seeking a declaratory judgment that Safehouse was in violation of the so-called “crack house” statute, making it illegal to “knowingly open, lease, rent, use, or maintain any place…for the purpose of…using any controlled substance.”
With more than 70,000 dying from accidental overdose in 2017 alone, the United States is currently experiencing one of the worst public health crises in its history. United States v. Safehouse represents the first time a court will interpret and apply the “crack house” statute –the largest legal barrier – to SCSs, potentially saving thousands of lives and helping to stem the deadly toll of the current overdose crisis.
“The Department of Justice is dead wrong in its attempt to prevent this facility from opening and additional lives may be lost because of this misguided action,” said Lindsay LaSalle, Director, Public Health Law & Policy with the Drug Policy Alliance. “There are volumes of studies based on decades of research supporting the efficacy of safe consumption sites. Not one death has ever occurred at an SCS and clients are more likely to seek treatment services in these environments. In filing these briefs, we want to ensure that the court has information based in science and proven practices that have saved countless lives.”
SCSs, also known as safe injection facilities, are a proven approach in mitigating drug-related fatalities offering clean, controlled settings for people to consume pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained professionals that can intervene in case of an overdose. In addition to providing access to sterile injecting equipment and supervised consumption, clients can also receive health care, counseling, and referrals to health and social services, including drug treatment.
Currently, there are more than 120 SCSs operating worldwide. Research indicates that SCSs have consistently led to fewer overdose deaths among clients, increased client enrollment in drug treatment services, and reduced nuisances associated with public injection, such as discarded needles and public intoxication. Over the past several years, DPA has led the effort to authorize and implement SCSs nationwide, including active involvement in introducing state SCS legislation in California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.
Legally authorized SCSs were first introduced in Europe in the 1980s and have been operating in Canada since 2003. Currently, there are no such legal facilities operating in the United States, despite the urgent need presented by the current overdose crisis. Absent state approval, various cities have approved SCS implementation at the local level including New York, Philadelphia San Francisco, and Seattle.
The supporting briefs for the Safehouse case represent a wide variety of health, community-based and government organizations. A full list of individuals and organizations represented by the friends of the court briefs are listed here.
DPA’s amicus brief includes signatories from prominent national medical and public health organizations:
Learn more about the need to bring SCS into U.S. communities at www.drugpolicy.org/SCS.