Philadelphia Backs Safe Injection Sites To Curb Opioid Overdose Deaths

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (CBS News) — Philadelphia wants to become the first U.S. city to allow supervised drug injection sites as a way to combat the opioid epidemic, officials announced Tuesday. They said they are seeking outside operators to establish one or more in the city.

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said the sites could be “a life-saving strategy and a pathway to treatment,” and would be just one piece of the city’s overall plan to fight the epidemic.

“No one here condones or supports illegal drug use in any way,” Farley said. “We want people saddled with drug addiction to get help.”

Safe injection sites are locations where people can shoot up under the supervision of a doctor or nurse who can administer an overdose antidote if necessary. Critics have argued the sites may undermine prevention and treatment, and seem to fly in the face of laws aimed at stopping use of deadly illicit drugs.

Philadelphia has the highest opioid death rate of any large U.S. city. More than 1,200 people fatally overdosed in Philadelphia in 2017, one-third more than 2016.

“I started completely, totally adamant against this,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

Ross still hasn’t completely embraced the idea of safe injection sites, CBS Philadelphia reports. He said he still has a lot of questions, but after speaking with law enforcement colleagues in Vancouver, Canada, a pioneer in opening the sites, he says he has an open mind.

“There’s a lot of lives being lost and that is something that, in the world of public safety, we certainly cannot just throw our hands up and say, ‘That’s not my problem,'” said Ross.

Read more and see video, here.