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Key court decision could pave way for Seattle safe injection sites

Safe injection sites scored a court victory on Wednesday. (AP)

A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Wednesday that safe injection sites do not conflict with federal statutes.

Are injection sites a slippery slope or tool against opioid epidemic?

In the past, lawmakers have argued that so-called “crackhouse rules” strictly forbid the implementation of supervised drug injection sites. Safehouse, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit, sought to get clarity on that before establishing a site in Philadelphia.

The law as it stands states that an you cannot establish a location where the explicit purpose is to facilitate the consumption of an illegal controlled substance.

In the case presented by Safehouse, U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh came to the conclusion that a safe injection site doesn’t fall under that definition.

“I cannot conclude that Safehouse has, as a significant purpose, the objective of facilitating drug use,” Judge McHugh said in his decision. “Safehouse plans to make a place available for the purposes of reducing the harm of drug use, administering medical care, encouraging drug treatment, and connecting participants with social services. None of these purposes can be understood as a purpose to facilitate drug use.”

Proponents of supervised consumption sites argue that they serve an important function in not only preventing overdoses, but also ultimately in reducing drug use altogether.

“The answer comes down simply to data,” Crozer-Keystone Health System’s Dr. Rick Pescatore told KTTH’s Jason Rantz back in May. “The data is consistent; the data is overwhelming that supervised consumption sites represent a clearinghouse for patients. They decrease mortality, they decrease overdoses, decrease communicable disease, they decrease crime, and overall, they provide a public health good.”

Here in Seattle, it’s the legality of safe injection sites that’s been cause for a fierce debate between the Department of Justice and city officials.

In April, U.S. Attorney Brian Moran warned Seattle that it could expect legal repercussions if it hosted a safe injection site. Shortly after, City Attorney Pete Holmes spoke out.

“The [Trump] Administration’s position continues to be disappointing because these are sites where medical professionals can meaningfully engage with people facing addictions, offering supervision but also treatment,” Holmes said.

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Both Holmes and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan also stated that they still took Moran’s threat “very seriously.”

In the future, the recent ruling in Pennsylvania has the potential to set a precedent for Seattle.

“What an incredible ruling, which I expect will inform the conversation ahead,” Holmes told Q13.

That said, it could also be a short-lived victory as well.

“The fact that it took the judge fifteen pages to lay out his argument for disagreeing with four different appeals courts is a sign that, regardless of the strength of his argument, other judges could rule differently and it’s ripe for The Third Circuit Court of Appeals to overrule him when the government inevitably appeals,” noted SCC Insight’s Kevin Schofield.

If the Third Circuit upholds the decision, though, the case could soon end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. It would take a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court for Seattle to be able to legally establish its own safe injection site.

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