October 2 will live long in US harm reduction history. A federal judge ruled that Safehouse—a nonprofit planning to open the first sanctioned safe consumption site on US soil in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood—would not be violating federal law.
“The ultimate goal of Safehouse’s proposed operation is to reduce drug use, not facilitate it,” wrote US District Judge Gerald Austin McHugh Jr. in his detailed 56-page opinion, “and accordingly 856(a) does not prohibit Safehouse’s proposed conduct.”
Bill McSwain, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, filed a motion in February seeking to prevent Safehouse from opening on the grounds that providing a safe space for drug users to inject is illegal under law 856(a)—the so-called “crack house statute” of the Controlled Substances Act.
US Attorney McSwain and his allies then argued in court against both the legality and the efficacy of safe consumption sites—which operate in 10 countries around the world and are shown by reams of evidence to reduce harms and save lives. A June survey showed 90 percent local support for an SCS in Kensington.