Rendell continues to push for first safe injection site to be in Philly

The Justice Department warns it would take "swift and aggressive action" against a city that opened a site.

Steve Tawa
October 03, 2018 - 2:07 pm

Pat Loeb | KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — If there is to be a "safehouse" for those struggling with opioid addiction, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell wants the first one in the country to open in Philadelphia. 

Federal officials threaten legal action, saying so-called "safe injection sites" are illegal. They're officially known as comprehensive user engagement sites, or CUES.

Rendell said there were more than 1,200 overdose deaths in 2017, most of which involved opioids like heroin, which was nearly four times the city's homicide rate that year.

"We have the highest overdose rate of any big city in America," he said. "If we had 1,217 homicides in one year, there would be all sorts of protests, and tremendous pressure to do something," Rendell said.

He's on the board of a non-profit called Safehouse, which would like to open a safe-injection site, where people can use drugs under professional supervision. Privately funded, it would be staffed by medical professionals, able to revive drug users if they overdose.

When he was the mayor, Rendell signed an executive order authorizing a citywide sterile syringe exchange program, during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"In that year, 1992, more than half of the people who went to hospitals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, not from sex, but from using dirty needles," he said.

The Department of Justice is against safe injection sites, warning it would take "swift and aggressive action" against a city that opened a site, bringing felony charges against users and workers. Rendell doesn't think the law should be enforced.:

"If the safe injection site can stop one person from dying, it's worthwhile," Rendell said.

The Kenny administration says it does not plan to open, operate or fund an overdose prevention site, but it supports a private organization doing so, because it could save an estimated 25 to 75 lives each year and get many people into treatment programs.

The Department of Justice has made it clear that it would prosecute users and workers at supervised injection sites.