Vancouver's safe-injection site was the first to open in North America

The City of Philadelphia announced Tuesday its plan to “actively encourage” a comprehensive user engagement site — also known as a supervised safe-injection site.

Comprehensive user engagement sites (CUES) offer people a safe space to use drugs, as well as clean syringes, medical treatment and recovery resources. They exist as part of an effort to reduce overdose deaths and provide medical care and recovery resources to people with addiction.

This announcement came a few months after city officials visited a similar facility in Vancouver, which has been proven effective in reducing overdose deaths and helping people with addiction enter treatment in the city.

In Philly, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city won’t build the facility itself, but rather will bring key stakeholders together to help construct it. Farley estimated the comprehensive user engagement site would save hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency response costs. It could also save between 24 and 76 lives per year that otherwise would’ve been lost to overdose.

“Supervised consumption facilities save lives and reduce the neighborhood problems associated with drug use,” Farley said. “We see the CUES model as a way to reach those that are hard to reach…and set them on a path toward recovery.”

This initiative is part of the city’s larger plan to combat the opioid epidemic with treatment and prevention initiatives, all informed by the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic in Philadelphia. Other initiatives in this plan included increases in the availability of medication-assisted treatment slots for people in treatment for opioid use disorder.

District Attorney Larry Krasner said he won’t prosecute any providers who open comprehensive user engagement sites.

“We will make sure idealistic medical students won’t get busted for trying to save lives,” Krasner said.”

Still, the city won’t be able to protect against prosecution from the federal government.

Dan Martino, secretary of the Olde Richmond Civic Association, has publicly advocated for safe-injection sites in the past. As a member of the Philadelphia Overdose Prevention Initiative, Martino thinks safe-injection sites will reduce overdose fatalities in the city.

“I want an end to this chaos,” Martino, who recently declared his run for 177th District State Representative, told Billy Penn. “It doesn’t seem that controversial or radical to me. Fewer deaths means a better city.”

“We really view it as a life-saving strategy,” said David Jones, the commissioner of DBHIDS, “and also clearly as a pathway to treatment.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...