Pennsylvania Senate votes to ban supervised injection sites

The bill passed the Senate 41-9, uniting Republicans; but just 9 of 22 Democrats were against it
South Philly's Constitution Health Plaza
Days before Philadelphia was to become the first city in the country with a medically supervised injection site (in South Philly's Constitution Health Plaza), protests from neighbors and elected officials prompted the nonprofit that would have operated it to postpone the opening. Photo credit Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KYW Newsradio, AP) — A bill that would prohibit controversial safe injection sites in Pennsylvania passed the state Senate with strong bi-partisan support.

So-called safe injection sites — also known as supervised consumption sites or overdose prevention sites — are locations where people can use intravenous drugs such as heroin under medical supervision, in an attempt to prevent overdoses and deaths.

The state Senate passed a bill Monday that would ban the establishment of these sites across the commonwealth.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Democrat Tina Tartaglione of Philadelphia, said Pennsylvania needs to prioritize recovery — not “prolonged addiction.”

“This bill will not affect any other harm-reduction efforts across the commonwealth. like the needle exchange,” she said. “It will only prohibit supervised consumption sites in Pennsylvania.”

Another Philadelphia Democrat, Nikil Saval, voted against the bill. He 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.

“Researchers found that overdose prevention centers facilitate access to health care, counseling, and support services, helping to connect the people they serve with much needed resources,” he said.

“Research conducted by the Yale School of Public Health showed that people who use overdose prevention centers are five times more likely to enter addiction treatment compared to those who do not use these facilities.”

Montgomery County Democrat Maria Collett, who was a nurse before she became a senator, voted in favor of the bill to prohibit safe injection sites. She said she understands supporters’ point of view, but resources for addiction treatment are stretched thin and recovery beds are hard to find.

“Our resources are so precious and so limited that I want to focus those efforts — I want to focus that money — and get it to the place where it's going to get people to treatment, to recovery,” she said.

The bill passed the Senate 41-9, with every Republican in favor of it and nine of 22 Democrats against it, and heads to the state House next, where its future is not immediately clear.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, has said he opposes safe injection sites. The subject has divided Democrats, making it unlikely that the bill will come up in the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives.

A proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia has been tied up in court since 2019. The U.S. Department of Justice in 2021 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.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio