Not all Democrats on board with Philly safe injection sites proposal

Not all Democrats on board with Philly safe injection sites proposal

Author: Taylor Allen/Friday, April 6, 2018/Categories: Philadelphia

In January, the City of Philadelphia announced it will implement safe injection sites, also known as comprehensive user engagement sites (CUES), in an effort to limit the number of people who will likely die from overdosing on opioids. 

Since the announcement, several Democrats have not warmed up to the progressive plan. 

These sites, intended to be funded through private donations and grants, would allow people who use opioids and other drugs to do so freely, providing clean needles. There would also be medical professionals present to ensure that people do not overdose. If someone does, the overdose will be reversed with a nasal spray that contains naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan. 

Gov. Wolf declared an opioid epidemic a “statewide disaster emergency” in January. 

Philadelphia had the second-highest drug overdose death-rate in 2016. 

Newly elected District Attorney Larry Krasner endorsed the sites before Mayor Kenney formally announced Philadelphia would go forward with it. Krasner has also said that he will not prosecute those who use the site. 

Rep. Curtis Thomas (D-Philadelphia) calls the sites radical and dangerous. 

“At what point do we practice what we preach?” Thomas said. “We consistently tell young people to obey the law and to not use drugs. We cannot use this situation to bypass the law and engage in illegal conduct. What is to stop young people from starting to use drugs if we offer them a safe place to take them?”

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, another Democrat, has also been critical of the idea. 

“For a safe injection site to operate legally, there would need to be in changes in both state and federal law,” Shapiro said. 

Shapiro is not in favor of anything that goes directly against the law. He does support other avenues that he feels will curb the epidemic, such as arresting drug dealers and holding pharmaceutical companies accountable. 

Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Philadelphia), by contrast, supports the idea and said his district is affected heavily by opioid addiction. 

Other than Cruz and Thomas, not many Philadelphia representatives have been vocal about their opinions. 

Philadelphia city council members, on the other hand, have a lot to say. 

Councilwoman Cindy Bass (District 7) thinks that Philadelphia decided to implement the initiative too quickly. 

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” Bass said.

Although Philadelphia is going forward with the plan, there have yet to be talks about how the city will deal with ancillary issues such as prosecuting drug dealers, how the city will handle an influx of people coming from outside the city to possibly use the site, and what types of illegal drug will and will not be permitted to be used at the site. 

“We need to make sure that by launching this initiative, we are not sending the message that Philadelphia has legalized heroin use or illegal prescription drug use,” Bass said in a public statement. 

Bass is the Chair of City Council Committee on Public Health and Human Services and said she was not notified of Mayor Kenney’s Opioid Task Force’s decision to greenlight the plan until it was formally announced to the public. 

She has since released her own five-point plan to address the opioid crisis as an alternative option. 

Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez feels that certain communities have been left out of the conversation. She said that she recognizes that people struggling with addiction need to be in a safe environment, but not at the expense of other residents. 

“We have normalized open air drug markets and encampments with no thought for the children who walk past them every day on their way to school, and trapped seniors in their homes because of what is happening on their front steps,” she said in a public statement. “We must address the health and treatment needs of individuals while reducing the real and lasting harm being done to the neighborhoods and their residents.”

Similarly to Bass, Quiñones-Sánchez said that Philadelphia is rushing to this solution without much of a plan. 

“Opening an injection site without a real plan in place will further entrench the crisis in Kensington,” she commented.

Quiñones-Sánchez also says this is an issue of “race and economics.” 

It is speculated that some sites will be in Kensington. Kensington also has a demographic that is primarily racial minorities and poor, and is generally held to be the epicenter of Philadelphia’s opioid problem. Critics have said that these sites will likely not be in more affluent parts in the city. 

The city has made no formal announcements as to where the sites will be located yet. 

Since the formal announcement of going forward with the sites, Mayor Kenney’s Task Force has hosted community meetings to discuss residents’ concerns and suggestions. The last meeting was in February; no others have been scheduled in the future so far.