By Kate Boulton, JD MPH, Legal Technical Advisor, Overdose Prevention Program Team, Vital Strategies
Last week, Vital Strategies joined an amicus brief in support of Pennsylvania nonprofit Safehouse and its proposed supervised consumption site alongside other leading public health and harm reduction organizations. The brief was submitted in response to the federal government’s appeal of a ruling this past February that Safehouse’s proposal to open the supervised consumption site does not violate the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Underneath the COVID-19 pandemic, drug overdose is the leading cause of death for adults age 18-50 in the United States, a long-standing crisis that demands an urgent response. In 2019, over 1,000 Philadelphians died from drug overdose, making the city among the hardest hit areas in the country. In total, 160 organizations and individuals participated in 12 amicus briefs in support of Safehouse, ranging from the mayor of Philadelphia to the American Medical Association, demonstrating the growing coalition that stands behind supervised consumption sites as a life-saving public health intervention.
Supervised consumption sites provide a safe and hygienic space for people to use their own drugs with supervision from trained personnel. Just this week, researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that an unsanctioned U.S. supervised consumption site observed over 10,500 injections over five years and treated 33 opioid-involved overdoses with no resulting fatalities. Supervised consumption facilities now operate in nearly a dozen countries around the world. Across these sites, there has not been a single reported overdose fatality because staff are on hand to administer naloxone and other life-saving emergency treatment. The evidence is clear: supervised consumption sites save lives and are a critical strategy in our response to the growing overdose crisis.
In the case U.S. v. Safehouse, the lower court recognized the fundamental purpose and importance of supervised consumption sites, acknowledging that “the ultimate goal of Safehouse’s proposed operation is to reduce drug use, not facilitate it,” and thus concluding that federal law does not prohibit Safehouse’s proposed supervised consumption site.
The case on appeal before the Third Circuit is an important test as other jurisdictions consider supervised consumption sites to address mounting overdose deaths. The ability of cities and localities to invest in evidence-based strategies is more critical now than ever as COVID-19 exacerbates the overdose crisis across the country, including in Pennsylvania.
In November 2018, Vital Strategies launched their overdose prevention initiative with the goal of reducing the epidemic claiming tens of thousands of lives each year.
We are proud to join other leaders in public health and harm reduction in support of supervised consumption sites and look forward to the day when this life-saving intervention can be freely and legally implemented across the country.
Kate Boulton, JD MPH, Legal Technical Advisor, Overdose Prevention Program, Vital Strategies
Learn more about Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program