Philadelphia Officials Support Safe Injection Sites to Address Opioid Crisis

Health Commissioner Tom Farley said the sites would be medically supervised and provide services such as referral to treatment for drug use, access to sterile injection equipment, wound care, and the overdose-preventative naloxone.

Philadelphia city officials announced their support for safe injection sites, medically supervised facilities where people can inject drugs such as heroin and receive medical services to reduce fatal overdoses and drug use. Philadelphia saw more than 1,200 overdose deaths in 2017, reported by CBS News to be the highest opioid death rate of any large U.S. city.

Health Commissioner Tom Farley said the sites would be medically supervised and provide services such as referral to treatment for drug use, access to sterile injection equipment, wound care, and the overdose-preventative naloxone. The city would not operate the sites, which officials called CUES (Comprehensive User Engagement Sites), but officials encouraged private organizations to make proposals to the city for their operation.

CUES will "meet [people in addiction] where they are, offer help getting treatment, and help them stay alive until they are ready to get treatment," Farley said. "More than anyone, we want every person who is saddled with drug addiction to get treated and maintain long-term recovery, but we recognize how difficult addiction is and we are facing an epidemic of historic proportions."

Other U.S. cities are also working on establishing safe injection sites. Seattle set aside $1.3 million in its budget to open safe injection sites last year and is in the planning stages.

Philadelphia officials conducted research on safe injection sites internationally, visiting a safe injection site in Vancouver and commissioning a report on evidence collected in Canada and Europe. According to their research, safe injection sites are effective and not connected with increased crime or drug use, and a site in Toronto saved 139 lives in six months last year. The call for a site in Philadelphia has come under criticism, however, with some concerned about the legality, safety, and effectiveness of such a program.

"While we understand the desire of local governments to try to save lives, this concept presents a number of serious public health and legal concerns," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said.

Establishing safe-injection sites is one of 18 prevention action items included in a report put forth last year by The Mayor's Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic. Officials stressed it was not the only step the city was taking toward addressing the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia.

"We are not naive," said city Managing Director Mike DiBerardinis. "Nothing you hear today is the solution, but small parts of a larger effort."

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