Supporters of a plan to open supervised injection sites to try to reduce overdose deaths on Friday urged the United States Supreme Court to review a court ruling banning the practice.
The test case centers on a nonprofit group’s Safehouse Project in Philadelphia, but officials in other states are closely monitoring debates about similar programs. Nationally, more than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, a sharp increase from the previous year.
A divided U.S. appeals court rejected the Safehouse plan in January, although the Democratic mayor of Philadelphia and the chief prosecutor approve it. The city itself lost 1,200 people to overdoses last year.
The nonprofit group’s plan to open a site was thwarted when former U.S. Attorney William McSwain, appointed by President Donald Trump who is currently running for Pennsylvania governor, argued he was breaking a law on the drugs of the 1980s targeting “crackhouses”. The district judge rejected McSwains’ argument, but the appeals court agreed with him in a 2-1 decision that nonetheless called the harm reduction goal “admirable.”
Safehouse last month asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling.
The amicus brief filed Friday, signed by dozens of current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials across the country, said Congress never intended the crackhouse law to encompass efforts harm reduction offered by medical personnel. Supporters in Rhode Island, where state law now permits, and California, New Mexico and several other states, are hoping to open pilot sites themselves.
“People are waiting and watching for a bit, to see if the administration (Biden) is going to criminalize him,” said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, the organization that coordinated the case. “The game of waiting has cost lives.”
The Justice Department has so far remained neutral in the case, waiving its right to intervene. McSwain’s successor, acting U.S. lawyer Jennifer Arbittier Williams, also declined to comment on Friday.
Under the Safehouse plan, people could bring drugs to a clinic-like setting, use them in a walled bay, and get medical help in the event of an overdose. They would also have access to counseling, treatment and other health services.
“His motivations are admirable. But Congress made it a crime to open up a property for others to use drugs, ”US Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote for the US Circuit Panel, overthrowing a district judge who found the plan legal given its goal of reducing drug use – not promoting it. – through advice and other services.