A 2-1 federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected a proposed supervised drug-injection site that would have opened in Philadelphia on the basis that the proposed site violates a federal law that was passed to prevent drug dens. The proposed site would have been the first supervised drug-injection site in the US.
The appeals court overturned the lower court’s ruling in favor of Safehouse, a non-profit organization that strives to establish a site where individuals can inject drugs they possessed prior to arrival, such as heroin and fentanyl, while medical professionals are present. This aims to increase drug users’ safety because it would promote the use of clean syringes and uncontaminated drugs. The medical professionals could treat wounds and overdoses. The site would also offer drug counseling and social service referrals.
The appeals court cited the Controlled Substance Act and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act to establish that the proposed site violates federal law. It is illegal to create an establishment for the purpose of drug use.
US Attorney William McSwain of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania supported the decision, stating that the appeals court’s opinion “is consistent with Congress’s intent to protect American neighborhoods from the scrounge of concentrated drug use.”
Circuit Judge Jane Roth dissented, stating that the purpose of the proposed site was drug treatment rather than drug use. Roth argued that the majority’s interpretation of the Controlled Substance Act created “excessively broad criminal liability.”
Ilana Eisenstein of DLA Piper, who represents Safehouse, expressed disappointment in the ruling because the Controlled Substance Act “was not intended to force Americans to stand by as idle witnesses while our brothers and sisters are dying.” Moving forward, Eisenstein stated that all legal options will be pursued.