Judge issues order that clears way for safe injection site in Philadelphia

People gathered in front of the court house.
Photo credit Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A federal judge has issued an order that clears the way for the nonprofit Safehouse to open a facility in Philadelphia, where people who are addicted to drugs can inject under medical supervision. 
Judge Gerald McHugh had ruled in October that Safehouse's proposal for a supervised injection site was not illegal, but Safehouse President Ronda Goldfein said the nonprofit sought a final order from the judge to be sure it was on firm legal ground.

"We've been waiting for legal authority to open. We now have legal authority. We're going to continue without plans to do that," Goldfein said. 

Safehouse officials have planned a Wednesday morning news conference to discuss next steps, which could include opening one or more facilities in Philadelphia. 

The facilities have been proposed for several U.S. cities as a way to combat the high number of overdoses related to the opioid epidemic, but none have yet opened because of the question of their legality. 

U.S. Attorney William McSwain, who brought the suit against Safehouse, says he'll appeal the order. 

“What Safehouse proposes is a radical experiment that would invite thousands of people onto its property for the purpose of injecting illegal drugs,” McSwain said in a statement. “In our view, this would plainly violate the law.”

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, agreed with McSwain, noting that “the solution to ending the opioid crisis in Philadelphia is complicated, but condoning the use of illicit drugs is not the answer.”

But Goldfein said an appeal won't stop Safehouse. 

"This is a declaratory judgment. We can move forward notwithstanding his appeal," Goldfein added.

City officials praised the ruling. 

Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement that the city will continue to support Safehouse and any other operator that seeks to prevent overdoses.

“The bottom line is that overdose prevention sites … offer compassion for fellow human beings, rather than misguided incarceration that only perpetuates the cycle of drug abuse,” the mayor said in a statement. “When a resident is suffering, our job as a city is to support efforts to alleviate that suffering, and to save lives.”