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Judge: Philadelphia safe-injection site does not violate federal law

By Darryl Coote

Oct. 2 (UPI) -- A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday ruled that a non-profit organization's proposal to open a safe-injection facility for opioid users in Philadelphia does not violate federal law.

U.S. District Judge Gerald A. McHugh ruled that a provision under the Controlled Substances Act implemented to close so-called crack houses does not apply to safe-injection facilities as their intention is to curb drug use, not encourage it.

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"I find that the purpose at issue under § 856 must be a significant purpose to facilitate drug use, and that allowance of some drug use as one component of an effort to combat drug use will not suffice to establish a violation of [the Act]," he wrote in his decision.

Safehouse selected Kensington, a neighborhood within Philadelphia, Pa., to be home for its proposed safe-injection facility, but the federal government sued in February to prevent it from opening, arguing it violates the law for containing a "consumption room" were people may take drugs.

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In his decision, McHugh wrote that both sides "skillfully" argued their definition of the act but when Congress made the provision in 1986 and then amended it in 2003, safe-injection facilities were not an idea in public discourse, which must be considered.

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"Although the language, taken to its broadest extent, can certainly be interpreted to apply to Safehouse's proposed safe injection site, to attribute such meaning to the legislators who adopted the language is illusory," he wrote.

The ruling is expected to have ramifications in New York City, Seattle and other places nationwide, which have received government pushback over similar facilities.

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Though an important step toward the facility's grand opening, Ronda Goldfein, Safehoue's vice president and AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania executive director, says they are planning for further litigation.

"It's not over by any stretch," she said. "At this very first level of judicial determination, the court has agreed that that law is not intended to stop us from saving lives."

The U.S. Justice Department said it was "disappointed" in the ruling and will pursue further "judicial review."

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"Any attempt to open illicit drug injection sites in other jurisdictions while this case is pending will continue to be met with immediate action by the Department," Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a statement.

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