DA candidate endorses safe injection sites for heroin

BY AUBREY WHELAN AND DON SAPATKIN – PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

Democrat Larry Krasner, the front-runner to become Philadelphia’s next district attorney, says he supports city-sanctioned spaces where people addicted to heroin can inject drugs under medical supervision and access treatment, a move advocates see as a promising step toward making the city the first in the U.S. to open such a site.

His Republican opponent, Beth Grossman, says she’s open to discussions on the matter.

For those on the front lines of the heroin crisis in Philadelphia, both are encouraging stances in a political arena where the idea can still be dismissed out of hand. But recently, cities across the country have begun to consider the possibility of instituting supervised injection sites; several nations, including Canada, have used the approach for years.

These sites are as widely supported by medical experts as they are controversial among the general public and, typically, elected officials.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has spoken frequently about addiction as a medical issue, has not supported them. The interim report from President Trump’s commission to combat addiction, chaired by Gov. Christie, does not mention the idea. Consideration of a supervised injection site was the most controversial of 18 recommendations in Mayor Kenney’s opioid task force report in May. A status update on the full report, released late Wednesday by the departments of public health and behavioral health, whose commissioners co-chaired the task force, said “exploration” of the notion was in the “planning” stage.

But Krasner says he faced similar opposition when he took the needle-exchange program Prevention Point on as a client in the early 1990s. He said a safe injection site, like a needle exchange, is just one tactic in combating an addiction crisis that must be treated as a medical issue. In a statement released this week, he said that if safe injection sites could help stave off that crisis, it’s a “moral obligation” to open one in Philadelphia.

“Three die a day in Philadelphia, 13 die a day in Pennsylvania, and nationally, there are 50,000 deaths a year,” he said in an interview Thursday. “So, yeah, I’m OK with safe injection sites.”

Grossman says she has warmed to the idea, citing articles in the Inquirer and Daily News on librarians who trained themselves to use Narcan to save overdose victims in Kensington, and of elementary-school students witnessing a man injecting heroin into his neck.

“If people are willing to talk about it, it’s certainly something that I’m willing to explore,” she said.

Both candidates stressed the importance of consulting with residents in neighborhoods like Kensington, where heroin use is heavily concentrated. “If they don’t want it, that has to be taken into consideration too,” Grossman said. And the legalities of such a site have to be parsed.

“Who the district attorney is, and their opinion on this, is crucial,” said Scott Burris, a Temple University professor of public health law. “Safe injection facilities are neither clearly legal nor clearly illegal. A district attorney could ask: ‘Do I believe this is a bona fide public health measure and therefore not subject to various kinds of criminal laws? Or do I think this is a criminal enterprise in disguise that I’m going to shut down?’ ”

Full story in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

Related statement: 
Supervised Injection Facilities: It’s Time

Related coverage:
DA Candidate Supports Safe Injection Clinics to Fight Opioid Epidemic in Philly | NBC10
Progressive Philadelphia DA Candidate Augments Platform | TechBook
Krasner: Safe Injection Sites Work | Philadelphia magazine