So-called “safe injection sites” would be a thing of the past if the Pennsylvania State Senate has its way.
The chamber voted 41-9 on the legislation that would ban the sites, after Philadelphia became the center of a legal battle over opening safe havens where opioid users could legally inject heroin and other drugs under supervision as a way to reduce overdoses.
All 28 Republicans and 13 of 22 Democrats cast votes in favor of the plan, labeled Senate Bill 165.
“Across this Commonwealth, Pennsylvanians are struggling with addiction,” said Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), the bill’s sponsor. “When my community came to me asking me to introduce Senate Bill 165, I knew it was imperative to build a bipartisan coalition of senators from across Pennsylvania to support the bill. The vote today shows it doesn’t matter how rural or urban, liberal or conservative, or far east or far west your district is, addictions affect every square inch of Pennsylvania, and we need to prioritize recovery and sobriety.”
Senate Bill 165 would bring Pennsylvania in line with 21 U.S.C. Section 856, which already prohibits the act of maintaining drug-involved premises anywhere in the United States. The legislation will not impact other harm reduction efforts including clean needle exchanges and medication-assisted treatment.
Sen. Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia) said efforts to ban the centers are based on misconceptions that they provide drugs or contribute to crime. Rather, the centers are sanitary and staffed by professionals who save lives by connecting addicts to treatment and services that can help them and reduce pressure on police and emergency responders, Saval said.
Gov. Josh Shapiro has said he opposes safe injection sites. The subject has divided fellow Democrats, making it unlikely that the bill will come up in the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives.
In 2021, The U.S. Department of Justice won a lawsuit when the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia rejected a plan to open a supervised injection site in the city. The court concluded the operation would violate a 1980s-era drug law aimed at “crackhouses.”
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case. The Justice Department has since said it is “evaluating” such facilities and talking to regulators about “appropriate guardrails.”
Rhode Island and New York City have allowed their use while the governors of California and Vermont each vetoed safe injection sites bill last summer.