Justice Department sues to stop nation's first supervised opioid injection site

Justice Department sues to stop nation's first supervised opioid injection site
© Getty Images

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the opening of the nation’s first supervised injection site — a place where people with opioid addictions are able to use drugs under medical supervision.

The Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the nonprofit Safehouse and its executive director is the first of its kind.

The lawsuit seeks to prevent Safehouse from opening “consumption rooms,” which provide safe places for drug users to inject using sterile equipment under the supervision of medically trained staff.

Philadelphia officials, including Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, gave Safehouse the green light to open the facilities over the summer as a way to try to combat the city’s opioid epidemic.


“We all want solutions that save lives, but allowing private citizens to break long-established federal drug laws passed by Congress is not an acceptable path forward,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain said in a statement.

“If Safehouse wants to operate an injection site, it should work through the democratic process to try to change the law.  But normalizing the use of deadly drugs like heroin and fentanyl and ignoring the law is not the answer to solving the opioid epidemic,” McSwain said.

McSwain’s lawsuit claims Safehouse would violate a section of the Controlled Substances Act intended to close crack houses.

“Setting up a drug house is illegal. And on the legal issues in this case, our position has remained firm and our communications to Safehouse clear,” McSwain said in a speech shortly after announcing the lawsuit.

Attorneys for Safehouse said they are not backing down.

“We respectfully disagree with the Department of Justice’s view of the ‘crack house’ statute. We are committed to defending Safehouse’s effort to provide lifesaving care to those at risk of overdose through the creation of safe injection facilities,” Ilana Eisenstein, a partner at DLA Piper, which is providing free representation to Safehouse, said in a statement to The Hill.

The lawsuit’s announcement comes the morning after Trump in his State of the Union address called for the end of HIV transmission in the United States by 2030, which has spiked in recent years.

Supervised injection sites are intended to prevent opioid users from sharing contaminated needles.