The highly anticipated and controversial opening of the first supervised injection site in the United States was cancelled one day after the facility was publicly announced.
A spokesman for the Constitution Health Plaza on South Broad Street in Philadelphia, said Thursday night that Safehouse will not open a facility that would allow heroin users to inject themselves with clean needles under supervision of medical personnel.
“We have made the decision to cancel plans to locate a supervised injection site at Constitution Health Plaza,” plaza spokesman Anthony Campisi said in a statement. “We believe in the good intentions of all involved, on both sides of this issue, and want to thank you for your honest communications with us over the past few days.”
In the statement, he referred to the consequences of the uncontrolled use of opioids. “The opioid crisis continues to devastate our nation, our city and the South Philadelphia neighborhood we call home. We made the original decision to provide space to Safehouse to play a positive role in providing an innovative way to bring needed services to those suffering from addiction. As one of the largest institutions in our community, we felt we had a responsibility to do something to save lives.”
And he added, “we want you to know that we have listened. We apologize. And we want to ensure open lines of communication moving forward.”
A sudden change
This announcement plunges Safehouse’s proposal into uncertainty after a historic court decision handed down Tuesday by a federal judge allowed Safehouse to open a site.
The sudden end of the plan occured after City Council objected the Kenney administration and Safehouse not revealing the site location and after U.S. Attorney William McSwain announced plans to continue to fight the opening of the facility.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney acknowledged the cancellation of the injection site in a statement issued on Thursday. “After Safehouse voluntarily delayed its opening so it could focus on meeting with the community, the building owner alerted the City that he was no longer interested in moving forward with the lease, In light of this development and the strong concerns voiced over the past two days, it’s clear that no site will open imminently.”
The goal is to save lives
However, Kenney insisted in the importance of the site opening for its consequences in saving lives. “I am glad that this will allow Safehouse more time to examine its options, and to engage the community. It will allow those with concerns more time to get answers. And it will allow everyone to take a deep breath and focus on the ultimate goal of this effort: to save the lives of fellow Philadelphians who are struggling with addiction.”
Despite the criticism, the Mayor reaffirmed his commitment to the project. “I remain convinced that overdose prevention sites do save lives, as they have in more than 100 cities around the world. I remain committed to moving forward in a deliberate, thoughtful, and collaborative way to open a site that will save lives.”
McSwain: Drug laws violated
U.S. Attorney William McSwain announced he would appeal the ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. He filed a motion Thursday afternoon asking that the injection site not open until the conclusion of the appeals process.
McSwain argued that safe injections sites violate federal drug laws, like the statute 856 which makes it illegal to “knowingly open, lease, rent, use, or maintain any place … for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance.”
He also voiced his criticism regarding the secrecy surrounding the location of the site.
“The sad fact is that Safehouse’s secretive, haphazard ‘plan’ has not been vetted with any of the affected neighborhood residents, community groups, City Council members, State Representatives or State Senators,” McSwain said. “It is being unfairly foisted on them on the assumption that they don’t matter. It is treating them like fools.”
On the other hand, Safehouse argues that allowing illegal drug use on its property will help prevent overdoses.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who sits on Safehouse’s board, all support an injection site in the city.
Philadelphia has the highest opioid death rate of any large U.S. city, with more than 1,000 deaths per year.