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Press Release

Civil Lawsuit Filed to Seek Judicial Declaration that Drug Injection Site Is Illegal Under Federal Law

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA, PA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced today that his Office has filed a civil lawsuit to prevent the establishment of a facility in Philadelphia where drug users would go to inject themselves with illegal narcotics.  The suit, filed against the nonprofit corporation Safehouse and its Executive Director, Jeanette Bowles, seeks a judicial decree that Safehouse’s planned opening of one or more so-called “consumption rooms” would violate federal law.  This lawsuit is the first of its kind filed in the United States.

In response to the city’s opioid crisis, Safehouse announced last fall its intention to open a location for drug users to inject street-purchased heroin and fentanyl under medical supervision of Safehouse employees.  With tacit backing from city officials, including Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner who promised not to prosecute those who established or used an injection site, Safehouse plans to open the nation’s first consumption room in Philadelphia imminently.

While U.S. Attorney McSwain emphasized that community organizations play an important role in combatting the opioid scourge, he cautioned that any response must be legal.  “I recognize that we are all on the same side in this fight,” he said.  “The proponents of the injection site share our goal of ending this terrible 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.”

Safehouse’s proposed consumption room would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, a comprehensive regulatory scheme enacted in 1970.  The Act makes it a felony to maintain any place for the purpose of facilitating illicit drug use.  According to the government, that is exactly what Safehouse plans to do.

“So-called ‘supervised injection sites’ would break the law, plain and simple,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain.  “The law is clear – and it is my job to respect and enforce the rule of law.  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.”

“The Department of Justice’s Civil Division is committed to using every tool at its disposal to combat the opioid crisis, and that includes stopping the establishment of centers where individuals can go to illegally use and abuse dangerous drugs,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “Operating spaces for the purpose of allowing the use of illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl violates federal law and creates serious public safety risks.  The Civil Division will not hesitate to bring actions like this against any state, city, municipality, or private entity that attempts to open a so-called ‘safe-injection site.’”

In partnership with federal, state, and local law enforcement, the United States Attorney’s Office prioritizes cutting off the supply of illegal opioids, prosecuting drug dealers and traffickers, and enforcing civil rights laws to ensure that people suffering from addiction have access to treatment.  Local government and community organizations play a critical role in providing effective treatment options, making overdose prevention medication more readily available, and leading prevention efforts.

According to U.S. Attorney McSwain, a partnership between federal, state, and local government, along with community leaders, is needed to implement a coordinated and effective response to the opioid crisis.  “I invite a dialogue with our community partners, including Safehouse, to discuss ways we can work together within the law to bring an end to this epidemic,” he said.  

Updated February 6, 2019