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Philadelphia Moves Towards Nation's First Supervised Injection Facility

Following Pennsylvania’s Statewide Disaster Emergency declaration, which called for addressing the State’s high rates of drug-related deaths, city officials in Philadelphia announced their support for supervised injection facilities, what they are calling “Comprehensive User Engagement Sites,” in a press conference last week. The announcement was an open call to potential investors and operators. If the call is met, then Philadelphia could be the site of the first sanctioned injection facility in U.S. history.

Supervised injection facilities create a critical gateway to other services for people who inject drugs because they are co-located with other social, medical and behavioral health providers designed around meeting the unique needs of this medically underserved population. Supervised injection facilities also benefit the community by decreasing the number of discarded needles, reducing public consumption of drugs and drug-related crime and by reducing the number of overdoses in the community.

Globally, approximately 100 supervised injection facilities exist in 10 countries. There are no such facilities that are sanctioned in the United States, but a significant movement toward opening them is underway in several U.S. cities and towns, including but not limited to: New York City and Ithaca, New York, Denver, Colorado, Portland, Oregon, Baltimore, Maryland, Seattle and King County, Washington, San Francisco, California, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Chittenden County, Vermont.

ACT-UP Philadelphia, Prevention Point, Angels in Motion, and other community groups called for supervised injection facilities to reduce the health and social harms of drug use, and they found support with city officials. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney formed the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic, which sent a delegation to the cities of Vancouver, British Columbia to study InSight, North America’s first sanctioned supervised injection facility site, which has been in operation for over ten years, and Seattle, Washington, where the city is in its planning stages.

In the city of Philadelphia’s plan, “Comprehensive User Engagement Sites” would be facilitated by the city in order to connect people with substance use treatment and ancillary services, but the sites themselves would be operated and funded by the private sector. The City counts its newly sworn in District Attorney Larry Krasner as a supporter, and Richard Ross, their police commissioner, has gone from “adamantly against” any injection facility to having an open mind.

There are still hurdles to clear. City Council may still block the implementation of such a site. The announcement faces resistance from Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, whose district includes most of Kensington (the area considered the heart of Philadelphia’s overdose crisis). Quiñones-Sánchez now says she welcomes a process for engaging with stakeholders, but has not said she has dropped her potential opposition. Elsewhere, Vermont legislators’ efforts to open a safer injection facility were foiled by U.S. Attorney Christina E. Nolan, who threatened criminal charges and seizure of assets, experts involved in Philadelphia’s plan say such threats should not impede the City’s progress.

In July of 2016, the AIDS United Public Policy Committee, the largest and longest-running national coalition of community-based HIV/AIDS organizations, called for the local implementation of supervised injection facilities as part of a comprehensive public health approach to reduce overdose deaths, prevent the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C and improve quality of life among people who inject drugs. We applaud the efforts of ACT-UP Philadelphia, Prevention Point, Angels in Motion, the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic, and other community supporters in advancing toward the implementation of a sanctioned safer injection facility in Philadelphia.

“Support for SIFs is growing, including the organization representing public health officials, which just released its Call to Action: Supervised Injection Facilities.”





Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, February 02, 2018

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