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Court ruling could alter Seattle’s reworked plan for safe injection sites

Safe injection sites have long been controversial in the U.S. (AP)

A Tuesday court ruling in Pennsylvania could potentially nix Seattle’s recently-reworked plans for supervised drug consumption sites.

Opinion: Seattle’s retooled plan for safe injection sites a huge step forward

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that a planned safe injection site in Pennsylvania would not be permitted to open, citing a violation of federal laws. In Seattle, city officials were waiting on that ruling to figure out the best way to move forward with a similar proposal.

Early plans for a safe injection site in Seattle would have had trained medical professionals at a physical location providing sterile tools for drug use, while standing ready to administer overdose-reversing drugs should the need arise.

A reworked plan included in the 2021 budget seeks to instead train staff members at existing low barrier emergency shelters to respond to and reverse overdoses. It’s unclear how Tuesday’s ruling in Pennsylvania will affect that, although Mayor Jenny Durkan did note that city officials “were anticipating this could happen.”

“This is another wrinkle we are going to have to deal with,” she said.

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

Turnover in the White House could also help determine how the situation plays out in the future. While Washington U.S. Attorney Brian Moran had previously warned Seattle against pursuing safe injection sites in 2019, the incoming presidential administration could opt to replace him with someone more amenable to the idea.

Advocates for safe injection sites have argued that they help reduce drug-related deaths, and could even help provide a bridge to treatment options for users. One study conducted in 2014 found that supervised injection sites (mainly in Sydney, Australia, and Vancouver, B.C.) did not lead to an increase in drug use or crime in surrounding neighborhoods, and actually led to a reduction in syringes littering streets. Since Vancouver’s facility opened in 2017, it has responded to over 6,400 overdoses without a single death.

Opponents have voiced concerns over the possibility of supervised injection sites concentrating large-scale drug use in specific neighborhoods, as well as conflicts with existing federal laws.

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