(Playground in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia; Wikimedia Commons)

A Philadelphia-area nonprofit scored a major win in federal court this month.

The case involves Safehouse, an organization that aims to set up a safe injection site in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood to prevent overdose deaths and provide people with resources to quit using heroin.

The opioid epidemic has hit Philadelphia hard. Last year, 1,116 individuals died of accidental overdoses in the city. Kensington—located in Northeast Philadelphia—has attracted users from across the Mid-Atlantic region, and serves as the location of informal camps comprised of individuals suffering from opioid addiction.

Following in the footsteps of successful organizations in Canada and Switzerland, Safehouse has established a plan to open a safe injection site were individuals can use heroine under medical supervision. Proponents argue that such a facility will substantially lower overdose deaths and prevent dirty needles from circulating around the city.

In this month’s ruling, U.S. District Judge Gerald A. McHugh declared that federal laws prohibiting the usage of certain drugs did not apply to the services proposed by Safehouse. The decision will have an enormous impact across the country, where similiar efforts to establish safe injection sites are underway in cities including Seattle, New York City, Denver, and San Francisco.

As of now, there is only one safe injection site in North America: Insite, located in Vancouver, Canada.

Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein praised McHugh’s ruling in a message to the Washington Post:

We’re grateful the judge agreed with us that federal law allows Safehouse to open a facility for the purpose of saving lives and preventing overdose deaths. This is a major step forward that lays the legal groundwork for moving ahead with this critical public health intervention.

While the organization is now free to move forward with its plans, the attorney general’s office has vowed to fight the ruling, indicating that Safehouse will most likely face additional legal hurdles in the coming months.


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