Pennsylvania’s GOP-run state Senate this week passed legislation banning supervised injection sites, sending the bill to the state House.
Such locations — also called “safe injection sites,” “safe consumption spaces” or “overdose prevention sites” — permit addicts to take illicit substances, mainly opioids, without fear of prosecution. Advocates of the injection centers say they are an important means of avoiding overdoses and drug-related disease transmission. The nonprofit Safehouse has been working to open such a location in Philadelphia.
Opponents insist the sites won’t lessen the drug-fatality epidemic, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claimed 106,699 American lives in 2021. The vast majority of those deaths resulted from opioid intake. Many anticipate the facilities would only worsen communities’ crime problems.
State Senator Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) reintroduced the proposed ban this year after it failed to get a vote last session. After her chamber approved the measure 41-9, she celebrated legislators’ bipartisan coalescence behind it and expressed hope for similarly resounding support in the House of Representatives.
“Across this commonwealth, Pennsylvanians are struggling with addiction,” Tartaglione (pictured above) said. “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.”
The senator noted she experienced recovery from addiction firsthand, being sober for two decades after struggling with alcoholism.
Republican supporters of her measure added an amendment in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week giving state prosecutors concurrent jurisdiction to enforce the site ban. Amendment backers explained they want to prevent district attorneys — particularly Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner (D), who strongly supports injection centers — from blocking prosecution of those operating the locations. No committee Democrat backed the amendment, though some continued to support the bill.
All nine Senate opponents of the legislation were Democrats. Those who spoke against it said it will deprive communities of a tool that helps them mitigate the devastation caused by excess use of opioids like heroin and fentanyl.
“It’s wrong that we move with such alacrity to prohibit one of the most effective harm-reduction services we know, and do not move with such speed to legalize other harm-reduction practices statewide,” State Senator Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia) said.
Other drug-war opponents registered similarly strong disapproval.
“In a bipartisan attack on science and medicine, Pennsylvania seeks to ensure that people continue to die from opioids in large numbers,” criminal defense attorney and activist David Menschel tweeted after the vote.
Democrats enjoy a one-seat majority in the House. While support for the Tartaglione bill is bipartisan, bicameral passage depends on whether a chamber’s leaders or committee chairs allow a bill to come up for a vote, making the fate of the injection-site ban far from certain.
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Christine Tartaglione” by Christine Tartaglione. Background Photo “Pennsylvania State Capitol” by Governor Tom Wolf. CC BY 2.0.