Philadelphia might soon become the first city in the United States to permit medically supervised drug injection sites in an effort to address the country’s ongoing opioid epidemic, city officials said.
The city is looking for outside operators to launch one site in the city – a move that has been met with both support and criticism, Fox News reports.
Philadelphia has the highest opioid death rate among large cities in the country, with the mortality rate still increasing. In 2017, over 1,200 people died of overdose, which was a jump of more than 30% since 2016.
In safe injection sites, patients can use drugs under the supervision of a doctor or a nurse who can administer an overdose antidote if needed. This has been called the “most radical step” against the opioid crisis, The Philadelphia Inquirer stated.
Dr. Thomas Farley, public health commissioner, said, “We are facing an epidemic of historic proportions.” These sites, he explained, could be “a life-saving strategy and a pathway to treatment.”
No one here condones or supports illegal drug use in any way. We want people saddled with drug addiction to get help.
There are no safe injection states in the USA yet, though Seattle has a $1.3 million budget for one in the city. Canada and Europe have a number of operational safe injection sites.
Local Philadelphia officials visited Seattle and Vancouver, where Farley said there are reduced overdose deaths, low HIV and hepatitis C transmission rates, and safer neighborhoods free from discarded needles.
A single safe injection site would save 25 to 75 lives yearly, the officials concluded. In addition, this would cut millions of dollar in hospital costs, and reduce public drug injections. Critics, however, have argued that such sites are misguided and would undermine prevention and treatment efforts.
So far, there has been no reaction from the federal government regarding Philadelphia’s plan of action. The US Department of Justice declined to comment.